Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal.

When I go from hence
let this be my parting word,
that what I have seen is unsurpassable.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Of Indian English and History Sheeters

I stumbled across a nice article on Indian English a few minutes ago. It explores the many variations of Standard (or BBC) English that are in use in India. I came across it while doing a Google search for the definition of the word "dias". This article told me that "dias" ia a mispronunciation of the word "dais" which is generally accepted only in India. The link to the article is:

http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/South-Asian-English

I also learnt, much to my surprise, that words like batchmate, eve teasing and opticals are not standard English and are not used outside India.

One word I have always been curious about is "history-sheeter". I know it is not part of standard English and is used only in India. But it has become standard in India and is used in newspaper articles, government notifications and other such bastions of standard English. What I find curious about this word is its complexity and apparent lack of relation to any word in English or in any Indian language. Most words in Indian English are either derived from some Indian words (such as bunglow, mantra, guru), or are corrupt forms of some English words (such as fundu from "fundamental" and backside from "rear") or are literal translations of Indian words (such as "good name" - "bhalo naam" in Bengali and taxi-wallah). However, the word history-sheeter, meaning someone who has a long criminal record, has no equivalent in standard English. Worse still is that there is no term in standard English or in any Indian language (as far as I know) which conveys exactly the same meaning. The closest word I have found is "rap-sheet". The word "rap sheet" refers to the criminal record of a person in standard English. However, it refers to the record and not the person. How "rap-sheet" evolved to "history-sheeter" - if indeed it did so in the first place - still remains a mystery to me.

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