language Reviews

Tharoorosaurus review: A to Z of Tharoor’s rich lexicon

A recent exchange on Twitter was full of droll humour. In a chat between authors, Shashi Tharoor commended Chetan Bhagat’s latest newspaper column. The praise was to the point, Bhagat thanked Tharoor but requested an appreciation loaded with ‘big words’, the kind the latter is famous or notorious for, depending on which side of the fan spectrum you occupy with regard to the former UN diplomat turned politician.

Tharoor took up the challenge, lived up to the cliché associated with him — the prophet of monumental words that whistle past our cerebrums. Words like rodomontade were used and Bhagat was in instant vocabulary-heaven! And as for rodomontade, if you want to know the meaning, tuck into Tharoor’s book Tharoorosaurus, a 319-page tome that starts with agathokakological and ends with zugzwang!

Multiple worlds

Before you scratch your heads and wonder about these complex utterances while living in a simpler WhatsApp universe where abbreviations and emojis rule, give the book a chance and it grows on you. For those who love English, a language that is constantly drawing inspiration from a multitude of its global siblings, Tharoor’s latest embrace of the written word, has much to savour.

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He deals with the ‘big word’ cliché associated with him, has a self-deprecatory laugh and illuminates English constructions either difficult like floccinaucinihilipilification or more familiar like nerd or pandemic. Despite his modest disclosure — ‘I am neither a trained linguist nor philologist, and I have no pretensions to being a qualified English teacher either’, this book reveals a language’s varied cultural roots and offers a glimpse into the author’s multiple worlds — literature, politics, diplomacy, culture and sport, especially cricket. Tharoor uses a wide-eyed deep-dive that helps us relish the word, understand its nuances and feel less intimidated if we encounter it again.

There is a hat-tip to William Shakespeare — ‘His written vocabulary, Dickson tells us, consisted of 17,245 words, many of which he simply made up for his plays’, but this book isn’t entirely about literature. It liberally draws from the globe around us, juxtaposes the past with current realities, makes some friendly jabs at rival politicians and ideologies but never loses focus upon the specific word being dealt with and its multiple connotations.

Epic connections

Tharoor isn’t a man to be pigeon-holed into one slot, there is much more to him than a strutting of exhaustive vocabulary. As a writer of fiction, in the past he dished out The Great Indian Novel that juxtaposed the epic Mahabharata with Indian politics laced with a terrific use of imagination and the pointed gaze. And this was much before another splendid author Mohammed Hanif startled us with his fictional take on contrarian history in A Case of Exploding Mangoes.

And in non-fiction, Tharoor delivers his observations with sophistication. Yet, think Tharoor and you whisper words he spouts like farrago but he has made his peace with that perception. Tharoorosaurus is him tossing his head back, gently smiling and shining a light on words ranging from the complex to the simple.

Tharoorosaurus; Shashi Tharoor, Penguin/Viking, ₹399.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 12:35:52 PM |

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