Mother language, slang, grammar, and other driftwood

February 18. That’s when I last posted. And much water has passed under the bridge since then. Mother Language Day, for one, which passed by on 22 February. Not uneventfully, for I got my kid to promise early that morning that he would henceforth speak only his mother language at home.

So I waited eagerly for him after school that day, hallucinating fondly about how he would say “Hi Mom! I’m back!” in his mother language.  I held my breath as he kicked the door open in his usual filmy style. And this is what he said:  “Do you know the opposite of ‘It rocks’?”  My breath froze.  He continued relentlessly, “It’s ‘It sucks'” The breath went into rigor mortis. (The kid often puts me in a spot with his questions, which I’ve written about before, here.)

Quite dispassionately he proceeded to illustrate the expressions (got teaching blood in his veins, does the little man) by listing out things that rock and things that suck (according to him). My breath thawed as I heard me mentioned in  his list of things that rock. As for what else figured on that list, well suffice it to say I wasn’t in very good company. The good company was all in his list of things that suck. The breath vaporized.   

I’m not against slang. In fact, I’m aware that ‘sucks’ is not even considered a swear word in the US where it’s used even by children. 

When Electroluux first marketed their vacuum cleaners in the US, their slogan was, “Nothing sucks like an Electroluux!” Apparently, the Swedish-speaking people who created that slogan didn’t know that in American slang, “suck” also means “to be bad”. (Source) Or maybe they did know, and it was meant to be a joke!!

The origin of this slang use of ‘sucks’ is imitative in nature, according to the OED, and I’m sure it’s obvious what it ‘imitates’, so I won’t mention it. I really don’t think it’s possible to use the word without evoking the reference; even my son giggles when he uses it, though he doesn’t know the actual reference. I hope!

More driftwood that floated by was National Grammar Day in the US on March 4. An occasion that most self-respecting language blogs chose to treat with disdain.  There’s actually a Society for the Protection of Good Grammar (SPOGG); check it out here. Their blog is good fun:

My own attitude to grammar is ambivalent; I’m sometimes punctilious and sometimes not.  Nathan  Bierma puts it better than I can in the Chicago Tribune :

I confess: I’m one of those people who cares about the difference between a gerund and a participle, between a restrictive and non-restrictive relative clause. This puts me in a tiny minority of deranged grammatical eccentrics — people you should generally try to avoid.
But most of the time — when we’re among friends, family, or anyone we feel comfortable with — we should simply let our hair down and allow our unpolished emissions of language to burst out of us in all their untidy splendor.

A little schizophrenic  perhaps? Speaking grammar with yourself and English with friends and family. (Read the entire piece here.)

Grammar is not dead in India; perhaps it’s the only thing that’s alive in English classrooms.  Last week a friend called to ask me how I teach my kid the Future Tense. (Apparently this monstrosity was being forced upon his 7-year-old kid in school!) I don’t, I told him. My kid knows how to tell me that he’s going to watch the cricket match on TV tomorrow instead of going to school. That’s all that matters, right?

And the final piece of driftwood before I sail out of this blog – another punctuation mark, the interrobang. Unfortunately, WordPress does not allow me to type it out, so here  it is on Wikipedia; it’s a combination of a question mark and an exclamation mark, with the one superimposed on the other. Similar in function to ?!

What the  . . . ?! I’ll continue to use this, thank you. Don’t we have enough trouble with existing punctuation marks ?! 


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