Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mrs. Malaprop and a Circumcised Car

I get a little mention at the end of Rehman Rashid's column in the New Straits Times today. Rehman reckons that portions of his previous piece in which he talked about bloggers:
... previously appeared, to deleterious effect, in a posting on Sharon Bakar’s estimable Bibliobibuli weblog
(Here's the piece.)

Ashamed to say that I wasn't sure what "deleterious" meant and had to look it up! (Was I being praised or having my knuckles slapped? Apparently the latter!). Which is actually the point of Rehman's article today in which he celebrates a love of words.
For I love and respect words. I love their precision and subtlety. And I love the sound of them; the way they form in the mind to trip off the fingertips or tongue; their rhythm, cadence and melody. I would be lost without them to flow across the contours of my feelings, giving them form and meaning, rendering them recognisable, palpable, and sometimes manageable.
I must confess that I like a writer bold enough to use the full palette of the English vocabulary with as much relish and abandon as Rehman.

Anthony Burgess and Will Self are other authors I admire for their linguistic appropriations.

The New Statesman even awarded an IgNoble Prize to Self:
... vocabulary builder, for the largest, most colourful and most dynamically obscure collection of words, phrases, neologisms and archaisms ever assembled, such as crulge, gubbertushed, and pastorauling.
Academic Suzanne Keen writes of Burgess' vocabulary:
... his love of odd words, old words, off-the-beaten-track words, his fascination with foreign tongues, etymologies, and dialects, has the effect of encrusting his fiction with a scumbled surface of language ...
I suspect Malaysians who read and love language are often so scared of being considered "bombastic" (a word I'd never even heard before I came to Malaysia! What does that tell you?) that they tend to limit themselves to the mundane and the cliched. There is a tendency here to stylistic safety and sameyness (does that word exist? Who cares!). Hurray for the writer who dares to purloin, snaffle, appropriate, coin, jiggle and juggle words.

Johnson (my crazy friend and noisy ex-colleague from teacher-training days) talks with relish about all the big words she'd managed to squeeze into her Reading University Masters thesis.

When her tutor tried to get her to simplify her vocabulary she pointed out that she'd carried these much loved words around with her for years, afraid to use them in the Malaysian context ... and now couldn't she ... just break out a little and slip them in?

Her tutor gave way.

The "vitruperation" about Rehman's "lexical choices" did indeed echo around the blogosphere ... and surprised me. I was pissed off by (and upset with) with Rehman's blanket condemnation of bloggers, but was amazed at how quickly - and with what vehemance - the comments targeted his writing style.

I was too lazy to write about it at the time, but being the pedantic English teacher that I am, I wanted to pick Jeff Ooi up on this post (clearly aimed at Rehman) and drum into him what a malapropism actually is!

A phrase like "monomaniacal nimrod with piscatorial propensities" (an example Jeff borrows from Zorro-unmasked) is yes, hilariously overblown, but it is not an example of a malapropism. (Luckily Jeff's more skilled at detecting other ... ahem ... textual abnormalities.)

And if the dictionaries are to be believed, there is no such verb in English as "malaprop". But then if we are encouraging inventive word play and the coining of new words in this post, we should let that one go! (Maybe award it a bouquet of jasmines!)

Another Johnson anecdote nicely illustrates what a malapropism is. (Indeed we called Johnson Mrs. Malaprop after Sheridan's famous character because she was always confusing words that sounded alike. It happened I think because her head was always half a mile ahead of her mouth.)

One day when we were driving out to school to watch a student in my (then) new Peugeot, I had to execute a rather sharp u-turn.

What Johnson meant to say was" "Does your car have a tight turning circle?"

What actually slipped out was .... "Has your car been circumcised?"

Enjoy your love of language, Rehman. And thanks for adding "deleterious" to my vocab this morning.


Kak Teh said...

sharon, to my children, I must be the original mrs malaprop. I told them that I had been taking astroids for my hayfever. Also, we bought the MP3 'cos its big enough to ferry around four children. enuff said! and you dont want to hear abt my spoonerism.

bibliobibuli said...

oh yes i do! those are brilliant malapropisms! hope jeff drops by to read

JY said...

RR was my newspaper hero when I was in my teens and twenties, but I found this recent NST piece rather condescending.

On a lighter note, Bib, my partner's contributions to malaprophetic movement:

"I prefer roti canai to mubarak." The Egyptian dignitary would not have been amused.

"Authorities tried to stop pigeons from procrastinating - their droppings can spread bacteria and disease."

Kenny Mah said...

I'm so forwarding this to Leen Ashburn who keeps complaining I use multi-syllablic words in my blog. I'm practically illiterate compared to these folks! :)

Anonymous said...

It's a delight to read you Sharon, especially your touching piece on Zephaniah. It was in my mind for days.
It's so laid bare that it has inspired me to write a piece on my teacher Ms Lee.
Rehman needs to write something to earn his keep, what better way then to attack one of our most-beloved bloggers? If he claims to love words, he would "invent" them like the Malay Male (I always look through MM's misogynistic rants though), instead of sticking to safe old words, most of them archaic anyway.
Creativity should not be stopped by the fear of the schoolmaster with his ruler. I noticed this fear in a lot of Malaysian writers. The flow of words is never there in most Malaysian works. They are so careful to be prescriptive right, so correct that they lack the spontaneity that makes great stuff. Let go Malaysian writers! Be pioneers to a brave new flow of words! Don't let people like Rehmen restrict you, they are but shadows on the wall.
If Rehman wins the Nobel Prize for Lit. (his rumoured aspiration), I would eat my shoe on that day I hear of it. Rox (Abroad)

Dina Zaman said...

huh? me bimbo.

bibliobibuli said...

jy - *LOL* those are brilliant "malaprophesies"!

kenny - let's all go multi-syllabic

rox - thanks. oh mm? he's dancing on the high wire without a safety net where expression is concerned

yeah dina!

Anonymous said...

So much to read, so little time! I love words too but prefer less to more if those can paint the same picture. Long-winded, tongue twisting and asthma-causing passages make me wheeze and guarantee a migraine, no matter who coined them! Give me child-like expression, straight to the core and honestly straight shooting, those are my favourite!
I accept RR has a way with his words but wonder what he sounds like if he were to rap?
I like reading your Blog Sharon as you have the knack of using the right words which has just the right oomph and I did not even have to flip open a Dictionary! Cheers

bex said...

Well, I do admire people who can use such big words liberally and confidently but I do think that sometimes when too many big words are used, it has the tendency to alienate certain readers from the subject matter of the piece. Unless of course you are writing for your own personal pleasure, then maybe it was intentional to alienate people from whatever you write.

Anonymous said...

Sharon, thanks for giving me my 15 mins of fame !! Imagine being juxtoposed with Rehman Rashid in the same article. I am at the pineapple of success!!


sympozium said...

I had a friend once who after a wine-tasting session wrote to me: "The Cabaret Sauvignon was good."

savante said...

Always nice to have some Mr Bombastic but every once in a while, saying it in simple laconic phrases can be refreshing. :)

sympozium said...

What does laconic mean? :-)

JY said...

Laconic means using very few words to say whatcha mean.

When I was quivering at the pubescent stage of my teenage years, Mills & Boons stories liked to use it to describe sardonic heroes. (I'm being terribly not laconic here, eh?)

The Age of Text Messaging saw how the laconic plague culled countless victims.

Kak Teh said...

hehehe! I really must tell this one. After posting the first comment here, I went to work - and at work, with a colleague we discussed a word which she thought had a different meaning. I pointed that she was wrong saying that it is one of those words you thought the meaning was obvious but turned out to be quite different. So, i offered and said such words are called friendly foes!!!! hahaha - even as I muttered that word, I knew something was wrong. She then corrected me and said: false friends! I think this is infectious...or I am just an incurable so and so!

Read@Peace said...

".... in a posting on Sharon Bakar’s estimable Bibliobibuli weblog...."

This reminds me of a famous story of a famous writer family who went to sleep with a dictionary so that they could beat each other at the weekend Scrabble game. May sound like fiction, but this fact was narrated on a road trip by an equally radical writer on a road trip in Sri Lanka.

Guess, the estimable writer who penned this piece is emulating it.

Isn't it a miracle, Sharon that such writing still survives and better still is given a space as well.

bibliobibuli said...

the word "laconic" is a v. nice one.

johnson!!!!! *big hug* i really miss you, y'know! life is so ... quiet without you. had dinner with john and john and richard and they told me you'd given them the malacca tour.

kak teh - another good one! we should compile a book

read@peace - good story, deserves fictionating!

Anonymous said...

"The Age of Text Messaging saw how the laconic plague culled countless victims."

What is wrong with this sentence LOL ? :D

animah said...

Sharon, Could RR be sweet on you??!
I think using many big words reeks of insecurity.

bibliobibuli said...

animah - you funny!

mind you, we are horoscope twins. born same date, same year.

The Quiet Storm said...

SHARON: Youre one of the best writers around because your writing's lucid, succinct and comprehensible hence you are able to reach out to a lot more readers than RR does! I think he should be more LACONIC and more evolved with his writing and not let his readers hunt for a dictionary all the time which is NOT a mark of a true good writer! I used to think that he's clever but not so now

JY said...

Dear Anonymous,
Do tell us what's wrong with the sentence. Did it not occur to you it was intentional?

Dear Bib,
Do malapropisms happen in Malay too? My non-M'sian partner mixes up 'keluar' with 'khalwat' and other words. It was red cheeks for me when he pointed to the exit sign and said within earshot of strangers: "Khalwat!"

Then he would recount to a friend a news story about some celebrity caught in a compromising situation and say: "They were charged with kelawar."

bibliobibuli said...

quiet storm - *blush*

oh yes jy. when i was learning to speak malay i went to a netball match at stadium negara to see a friend play. she'd brought her family along, and at one point i got bored with the matches and decided to take a stroll around the place.

"mana pergi?" asked my friend's mum

and i replied with (what i thought was)my textbook malay

"jalan jalan, makan anjing!"

she probably thought that i really did mean "eat dog" instead of eat "angin" (air)!

a friend of mine stupidly decided to learn malay following his own theory of acquiring vocab. he decided to learn all the words that rhymed, together. the neighbours were mystified when he proudly announced "cawan saya akan datang" (my cup is coming) instead of "kawan" my friend.

the most delightful malapropism my husband ever came out with was when he told me he'd been feeding a stray turquoise cat. he meant tortoiseshell (3 colours). we adopted her and her name from that time on was ... turquoise

JY said...

Those are hilarious stories, Bib. ;-P Turquoise probably wonders why it was named for a colour so un-catlike.

Anonymous said...

Hi, it really interest me to see the comments posted in your blog regarding RR. I really like his writting and i m surprise with the attitute of dictionary free readers. It is as good as saying i m so good i don't have to improve my vocabulary. It is a dangerous attitute especially to budding readers whom our country trying to get them to not just read but to read more. Learn to accept others in their style of writting and the physcodynamic behind it. To RR : don't get disappointed. There r more people that like your writting than those who hate your writting. We hope to see more real talent writers in the future and just dont wacked an individual for the sake of writting and negative comments.

Anonymous said...

ANONYMOUS: You had better get you spelling checked when you try to say or write something profound:
You spelled the word WRITING as WRITTING 4 times which evidently shows that they aren't typos and you spelled PSYCHODYNAMIC as PHYSCODYNAMIC WRONGLY TOO!!!

bibliobibuli said...

PHYSCODYNAMIC is a nice word though. it should exist even if it doesn't ...

but yes, rehaman, don't get discouraged!

Chet said...

I really like the "makan anjing" mistake - that's why you fit right in here, Sharon!

bibliobibuli said...

'cos i eat dogs?

Anonymous said...

jy : it's hard to explain on the Net, but okay here goes.

"Cull" is an insult. You're saying that somehow the victims were weak and undesirable, and that somehow because of that they deserved to be removed. "Cull" also means to select from a group, ie. It implies careful selection. Diseases do not "cull" victims, they "claim" victims.

If that was intentional, then well, I've only just heard of one man who might have thought that intentionally. His name was Adolf Hitler.

- The Original Anonymous

Anonymous said...

Oh hey, forgot a reference. The definition for "cull" for the other post was taken from www.m-w.com :D

- The original Anonymous

Argus Lou said...

Dear Original Anonymous,
You lost me at "cull is an insult". But thanks for trying to explain. I do see what you mean.
(Do you know people who absolutely refuse to use SMS short forms? Maybe it's a kind of strength, a desire to keep the language less mangled. School teachers tell me some students use text-messaging abbreviations in their essays.)

bibliobibuli said...

argus lou - you are the mysterious lady from the land of the cuckoo clocks?! hadn't made the connection till just this minute. you won a prize but didn't claim it!