‘This is’ why I don’t click on ‘these’ news headlines

I had always thought that it was just my pre-teen daughter who needed to be told every time,usually when I drove the car and she sat at the back, to not to use ‘this’ and ‘that’ while starting a conversation. A pronoun is, after all, a noun replacer and one needs to know the noun in the first instance. It is yum. It is tangy. It is soft. Yes, but what is “it’?  It is a case of sheer laziness more than a weak vocabulary in her case. But what about so many online news headlines these days?

As you scroll down the news feed I invariably come across a headline or two and sometimes even more that reads something like:  ‘this is how the mother of 3 fought the tiger’, ‘this powerful herb cures depression’, ‘this is why the actor walked off the stage’ etc. What in the correct, traditional way should really have been written as a) Brave mother of 3 fights a tiger, b) XYZ cures depression and 3) Actor in anger walks off stage. Simple. This is how it is usually. Why would you add ‘this’ and ‘that’ and their plurals.  Is it not obvious that the body of the article will explain the headlines and in a good journalistic fashion report the whys, whats, wheres, ifs and hows. And if the subject is of reader’s interest he/she would anyway click on the headlines to read further on.

I figured out the reason and maybe I am the last one to do so! It all comes down to making the readers curious and encouraging them to click on the headlines so that it takes them to their website. Clicking on the link gets them the numbers after all and in the end it is all about numbers. So if it was something like : Green Tea Cures Depression you might move on to the next news and not bother to click the headline to read the details- who said it, why, where etc. However, if it was “this” cures you of depression, this this (yes 2 ‘this’) will make you click on the headline to at least grab the name of “this”. Clever. Though many times this ‘this’ makes you feel cheated. You have after all taken the bait! How predictable of you?! And if ‘this’ turns out to be nothing as spectacular as it was made to sound in the headlines (which happens most of the time) it is very annoying.

I choose not to read such articles at all now. It is more like a revolt. Revolt against being fooled. Revolt against being sold something by playing on a human weakness called curiosity. I might be missing out on some useful information but a gimmick like this is better suited for selling new products. Selling news? No way.


(image courtesy: http://www.monkimia.de/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Moebeltattoo_this_and_that.jpg)



Painting cruelty with softness


I have been at a loss of verbs (pun, yes!) looking for, as my client asked, a ‘softer’ replacement. I have been wondering what words can be soft for acts that are outright cruel. So if the villainous king kills babies by throwing them against the prison wall, how can you tone the sentence down without losing the essence of the story?

I was recently given a writing assignment where I had to rewrite Lord Krishna’s life story for the reading of children starting as young as five. And in times such as ours when even calling someone fat (who is naturally so) is formally incorrect, imagine writing on Krishna’s life without having to use all those forbidden words is next to impossible. Just like writing on any mythology from around the world. They are full of acts committed by good and bad people alike such as deceit, murder, rape and all that is agreeably heinous.

So how far should you really go to tone down a mythological story for an extremely young audience? Yes, Lord Krishna as a child loved to ‘steal’ buttermilk from his neighbours’ houses. As he grew up, he loved to ‘flirt’ with village girls and the other characters in his story line, like his uncle ‘killed’ babies upon babies by ‘bashing’ them against the prison walls searching for the correct baby. His adopted sister was ‘dragged’ to the royal court when her ‘5’ husbands lost her, along with their kingdom in ‘gambling’. They tried to ‘disrobe’ her. So in short, what you have here is stealing, flirting, killing, bashing, gambling, selling your spouse and a near-rape. Now all this makes an interesting read for story-lovers but toning it down for little children! Yes, you want them to read mythologies as early as possible and without telling them that the good characters too indulge in acts that are absolutely unacceptable. How do you do it?

I couldn’t. Yes stealing was replaced by ‘took’. But the softer verb ‘took’ changed the real meaning, right? I changed the word bashing to flinging though that was also not happily accepted by my client. I left it on him to find a softer word. My mum suggested an adverb to bring down the impact, ‘casually throw’.  I think it is as horrendous as merely flinging. The uncle was anyway throwing the babies in a fit of rage! And disrobing the dress was replaced by pulling. They all sound equally bad! Why would you want to pull someone’s dress!

Never having read on child psychology I find it difficult to apprehend on how a child gets affected while reading or watching something he or she really shouldn’t.  All of us, including children, are different. We react differently to a particular situation. My daughter, who is ten, read an article in the newspaper nearly a year ago on how two babies died in a car due to heat as their negligent parent locked them inside the car while he/she shopped for hours. Every time when she feels hot, she is STILL reminded of that incident and talks about it. Yester night, she remembered about it when she felt warm after she had taken the quilt! She just has that episode stuck in her head and no matter how hard I try,  I fail to explain things to her.  And this is factual news that she read in the newspaper, so I can’t even tell her that it is just a fabrication or she shouldn’t be reading such news.  This is how she is and not all other kids of her age are like her. Some will glance through the news, some will go deep and some won’t even bother reading! But who is learning what and when is a very subjective matter.

So my two bits, be truthful (ok, you don’t have to give vivid details) and have a disclaimer in the beginning. After all, a very young child is not expected to read/watch without his parent around! A parent is the best judge to tell if a specific story containing all these unacceptable episodes is fit for his or her child or not. But, leave the story alone. Especially mythology.

(image courtesy: http://www.cliparthut.com)

Poly-lingual madness


(image courtesy: http://s3.scoopwhoop.com/aka/KLPD/Coolguyfeature1.jpg)

Being born and brought up in a country where not one but two or even three languages are spoken naturally gives you a supposedly head start in life, boosts memory power , increases job opportunities along with other benefits that researchers claim of.

However, I have always wondered if it is any good knowing more than one language.

I have three problems with being a tri-linguist: it corrupts your grammar ; you make a fool of yourself by doing literal translations especially of phrases and lastly which is most awkward of all is the decision you have to take as to use which language where and when.

So here I go at length starting with the last of my three problems:

1) The decision you have to take as to use which language where and when.

Now this can be tricky. In most private offices, banks and branded places, it is an unspoken rule that you converse in English. It is a sign of being well-read. Especially if you have to go to your children’s school to attend a meeting, etc

However this very unspoken rule puts me (and maybe many like me) in dilemma.

A few days ago I happened to receive a call from an uncle whom I hadn’t spoken to in many years. He was looking for my father and got hold of my number. Now, an ‘everyday’ uncle would have causally started talking in Hindi.  This wasn’t the case here. After the exchange of pleasantries in English (which was sounding way too formal anyway!) I changed the language to Hindi without sounding abrupt and in the middle of it I realised I should speak in Punjabi to match his Punjabi accent and I don’t know how or when it went back to English in the end. This was a complete scramble of all the languages I have known and by the end of the call I wondered what was wrong with me!

The above was however a one-off  experience in personal life.

It is a different thing in public sphere especially when you have to go to offices to get ‘your work done’. For example if you go to a private bank where you are expected to speak in English with the bank agents, you would realise  immediately that you are sounding overtly formal which is not helping you solve your case and you are better off speaking in Hindi. And from the crisp, formal, serious English you smoothly glide onto  casual, friendly Hindi which to a foreign ear can sound downright hilarious.

One would wonder then why don’t we  start our conversation in Hindi and save the hassle of making a switch from one language to the other. Why initiate the conversation in English at all? Now, if that ever happens it would mean two things: you can’t speak English despite looking the ‘type’ who can speak English and you are way too chilled out (which doesn’t go down well with these bankers and other officers). The transformation from one language to the other has to be smooth and done at the right time…so you start off with English here and at the right time (depending on the kind of person you are interacting with) move over to Hindi and if you realise that the officer you are talking to is from the same region as yours you can then further change the language to regional!  Also, the higher the ranking officer you meet (which is nearly impossible as these corporate ‘babus’ are so untouchable) the language remains more formal which means … yes, English.

2) Grammar

My stand to have just one language is simply to attain perfection. After all, just doing one thing daily brings you an inch closer to perfection. In our case we are far from it and I blame our bilingual/tri-lingual tongue. We are mediocre in all our languages. In our English-speaking schools and colleges, Hindi is taught insipidly. Now wonder, we can say our abc’s better than k, kh, gs.

To make things worse we have added Hindi conjunctions and interjections in our English sentences besides nouns .  One of the two most over-rated two-letter Hindi word Na makes me cross. I told you na, Do it na, See na. The word Na in Hindi simply is to put emphasis on the statement. I see no use of it in Hindi too. So hearing it also in English is annoying, na? The second word is Ki. I told you ki she is coming, He said ki he won’t come. Here ki means ‘that’ in Hindi and I have no idea why can’t people say that for that in English. They say it so frequently ki my ears hurt!

And finally, 3) the literal translations.

I remember telling a Scottish colleague of mine in the UK long time ago that he must be upset as I was ‘standing on his head’! Now, I could see that it made no sense to him. It is a common expression in Hindi. The phrase ‘standing on someones head’ means bothering somebody by being around them whereas in English it means you can do something easily! What a contrast! And no wonder he looked flummoxed and expressed surprise when I said so. And the second one which I use for my daughter at times is “don’t eat my head” to which a non-Hindi speaker will not be able to fathom. Translations of phrases are a bad idea and should not be attempted at all but it comes naturally for speakers of more than one language.

So yes, the quest of achieving perfection in a language especially in a country like ours which has hundreds of languages is far from being achieved. And asking users to exclusively speak just one language at a given time seems impossible now. Maybe someday people like me would get familiar with this fusion of languages just as we have accepted using parsley and thyme in our Indian cooking.


The image on top is of a ‘cool cow’  or a ‘cool guy’. The Hindi word for  a cow is a gaay which as you can now tell is a homophone . Hinglish at its best! 🙂