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Welcome, words that ring true

Illus: for TH_sreejith r.kumar

Illus: for TH_sreejith r.kumar  

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The use of the apt word should be appreciated rather than questioned and mocked

Many people have been wondering whether two words that Shashi Tharoor used, ‘Farrago’ (for a confused mixture) and ‘Rodomontade’ (noun: boastful or inflated talk or behaviour/verb: talk boastfully), were indeed so affected and outdated as to invite ridicule and criticism from some quarters, in particular on social media.

On the contrary, both words were not only spontaneous and apt but mot juste (French for the most appropriate and exact word). They are not archaic or defunct, and are frequently used by those who have good English, which is a languagewith a nuanced vocabulary.

Daily Mirror of the U.K. used the word ‘Farrago’ in a Sunday edition in May 2015. “Life has become a farrago of rum, vodka and champagne,” Alistair Neil wrote. The Guardian used it in an editorial in January 2016: “The farrago of politics, religion, service, violence and what not…”

The New York Times used the word ‘Rodomontade’ to describe Donald Trump in early-2016: “Trump’s rodomontade.” English playwright Tom Stoppard used it in an article that appeared in The Sun in 2013: “I feel that drinking and rodomontading go hand in hand.” Salman Rushdie used the word recently in a speech delivered at Columbia University: “Most of the characters in all religious texts and scriptures were in the habit of rodomontading.” Neither of the words sounded pompous, weird or incongruous in any of these contexts.

Coming back to Mr. Tharoor’s choice of the two rather quaint but correct words, in fact you can’t think of better and more apposite words than what he chose to employ to express his views.

The problem with many Indians is that they’ve no real knowledge, let alone command, over English, and not being native speakers of the language the vocabulary is woefully inadequate.

When we’ve ‘awesome’ and ‘wow’ for every good thing, really how can we appreciate words such as ‘Farrago’ and ‘Rodomontade’?

Mr. Tharoor is a writer and intellectual. His use of words is invariably unerring. He’s not a sciolist (a pretender to knowledge: this word was recently used by this year’s English-speaking Japanese Nobel-laureate). In this age of social networking, the uneducated or semi-educated envious hoi polloi may just talk of Mr. Tharoor’s superior English.

It is worth recalling Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s use of the rare but beautiful words ‘irenic’ (peace-loving; often confused with ‘ironic’) and ‘vouchsafe’ (be kind enough to give) in his writings. Both words were considered uncommon even in his time, but he essayed the meanings in a convincing manner. When Dr. Radhakrishnan wrote an essay for the Congress of World Religions in 1971, he used the word ‘irenic’ thus: “Buddha’s irenic philosophy has no parallel in the history of human civilisation.” The word perfectly and cogently conveyed the meaning, though a detractor may say the philosopher who was President could have used ‘peace-loving’ in place of ‘irenic’.

Again, in 1968 Dr. Radhakrishnan wrote: “Sir Reid vouchsafed a reply.” Dr. Radhakrishnan would never have sought to flaunt his command over English or his erudition. His English was superb and his vocabulary range fascinating.

The historian Ramesh Chandra Majumdar of Dacca University headlined one of his chapters on the Mughals as ‘The sanguinary history of the Mughals’. The word ‘sanguinary’ is usually associated with bloodshed and gore. No one asked why he didn’t use a simpler synonym. The word ‘sanguinary’ really hit the nail on the head and sounded most appropriate in that specific context.

In his book, A Course in General Linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure wrote that “words are best used in connotational contexts”. Certain words are tailor-made for a particular context or mood. They can’t be replaced with synonyms and substitutes with lesser impact and intensity. Only those who read and write extensively might understand the nuance.

Urdu poets Asadullah Khan Ghalib and Muhammad Iqbal often used difficult Arabic-Persian words. Some of their coevals criticised them for using such ink-horn terms. But a careful study of their works will reveal that both the masters used the perfect words to bring home the point.

Mr. Tharoor cannot be accused of ostentation or condescension for having used two beautiful words that had generally slipped out of the linguistic consciousness of the masses. We should rather thank him for having dug them out of oblivion. We need to do this more often in order to lift standards.

sumitmaclean@hotmail.com

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 11:26:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/welcome-words-that-ring-true/article22267775.ece

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