Friday, 29 June 2007

Like... a bunny?

The English language is a fickle and complicated beast. Apparently it’s one of the harder languages to learn, though personally I think Mandarin or Swahili would be much more difficult, but hey. I suppose in a language where many words - even if short and simple - not only can be pronounced in a variety of ways but also have vastly different meanings and yet be spelt exactly the same, there’s lots of room for (erm) poetic licence(?)

On top of that, I live in the Western Cape. Cape Town, to be more specific - and anyone who is familiar with Cape Town will know that we boast impressive diversity in terms of races and nationality. South Africa has a total of 11 official languages - and the list doesn’t include tsotsitaal and the oft-heard European languages, such as German, Greek, Dutch and so on.

So you take a relatively complicated language, gently mix it with a variety of cultural backgrounds, sprinkle in some colourful colloquialisms and accents and you’re left with a beautifully-corrupted version of the English language. This is the sort of thing that keeps a purist awake at night, and I’ve had my fair share of nausea waves, induced by seeing the English language misused and horribly abused. (Every time I see a misplaced apostrophe on a television or print ad, a little bit of me dies. [The plural of DVD does not need an apostrophe, as in DVD’s. It’s just wrong, wrong, wrong.]) In an attempt to control my inner nerd (because I sure as hell cannot control how people use the English language) I’ve been making a concerted effort to be less precious about how things are said and written. That’s not to say I don’t believe in keeping the English clean and unharmed, but ultimately, I guess it boils down to situation appropriateness.

There’s also a definite element of humour in the misuse of the English language - albeit unintentional. Some terms and expressions have become quite well-known and poke fun at ourselves in the larger-metropolitan-city-one-big-happy-family sense. (Think ‘I are wearing my jean pant’ or ‘eish, she’s broken’.) While these sort of expressions can be viewed as derogatory (though surely not if used within a specific context), these sayings are slowly emerging, finding their place and becoming widely accepted.

Then again, some people are just incredibly gifted at coming up with sayings that are unique, expressive and often, hilarious. Recently, one of my work colleagues was telling me how hungry he was - it was just before lunch time. ‘I’m so hungry, I could eat the ass off a low-flying duck’ were his exact words. I had to write that down somewhere. Classic.
One of my best friends often passes on funny things she’s heard. Recently, she was waiting in a queue for something (could’ve been the bank, or perhaps the Pick ‘n Pay - I can’t remember). A woman in front of her was waffling away on cell phone, and going to into detail about the cold weather and how she was ‘freezing like a chicken’. Since then, ‘freezing like a chicken’ has become somewhat of an insider joke within our friendship circle. At first glance, ‘freezing like a chicken’ makes absolutely no sense, and is a poorly-constructed metaphor, and yet we all know exactly what it means. I feel cold just thinking about it.
Another phrase that has recently ‘caught on’ is ‘soft like a bunny’. The same-said friend took one of her (four!) fluffy pussycats to the vet recently, who marvelled how Moses’ (I e. le cat) furry coat was ‘soft like a bunny’. Since then, this expression has been used on many occasions. I won’t lie - my cat is not quite ‘soft like a bunny’, yet I have (unintentionally) found myself using the term in many instances, substituting the ‘soft’ for a variety of other adjectives. Gymming like bunny... working like a bunny... eating like a bunny... drinking like a bunny? Somehow, they all make sense, (well, at least to me they do) even though they really shouldn’t.

I’m not entirely sure what this says about the English language. Are we ripping it to shreds. or merely expanding its borders and making it more widely accessible? I’m not ignorant to the fact that the purity of the language is melting into a sludgy mucky-bown hybrid. Yet perhaps the more colloquial version can happily live alongside its more formal (‘make-our-English-professors-proud') counterpart, Ideally, I’d like my (future) children to be able to explore their mother tongue, and embrace its little idiosyncrasies - more a product of the community in which we live. Yet at the end of day, I strongly believe it’s important to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s - and for heaven’s sake, there’s NO apostrophe* in CDs, DVDs, VCRs, photos, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s...
* unless you’re implying possession, in which case - give it horns.

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