Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Of Words and Meanings

“In the beginning was the word and the word was God ” says the Holy Bible. In Hinduism, “Om” has a special significance and is believed to be the first original sound produced at the time of the making of universe and the planet Earth. With the advent of civilization , sign-language was invented to communicate , but after the evolution of various languages all over the world , it is the spoken and the written words that have revolutionized the world. To be lost for words is considered a virtual handicap when we are not able to express our feelings of extreme joy , sorrow or surprise. Not only the words but their meanings assume an important place in our day to day life.
Shimla , where I was born and grew up was a part of Punjab and in school , we were taught Punjabi as a second language. Our neighbourhood was a Punjabi- dominated one . The concept of family planning or family welfare was not born and each family had a brood of three and more on an average. Needless to say , bringing up three and more kids at a time required a lot of grit and patience and it was very common to hear swear-words or gaalis being hurled upon pranksters or otherwise erring children. Some of these were – moya , rud jaaneya , khasman nu khaneyan etc. etc. Particularly a lady who was a cleanliness buff was more liberal in showering these expletives on her four sons. Occasionally heard was also a word “auntra” the meaning of which , we never tried to find out .
I was in seventh or eighth class when in a terminal examination we were required to substitute one word for an issue-less man. The entire class scratched heads to think and find out but could nor get beyond niputta or bey-aulad both of these unacceptable . It was only after the exams when we were to receive our marked answer sheets that Gyaniji , our Punjabi teacher told us that none of us had got the answer correct and added that the correct answer was “auntra” which we had heard countless of times or ad nauseum .
Another instance that comes to mind , relates to the Hindi word pratishthit . The Hindi teacher did not spare the rod and the entire class got a spanking for not getting the meaning right. The glossary given at the end of the text book showed the meaning as “ jiski sthaapana ki gayi ho" which though not completely incorrect was utterly out of context ,and rightly so , the teacher would not have it for an answer which he told was “reputed” or “renowned ”..
These two instances inculcated in me the habit of looking up dictionary every now and then to know the exact meaning of words . Needless to say now we have words like “avatar ” adopted in English and used liberally for manifestation or shape or form of any thing or substance and not in the narrow religious sense. Again we have words like Moolah being frequently used for money or lucre.

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