Tuesday, 13 May 2008


The inevitable consequence of living in a place where every nationality of the world comes together is that the language used by the vast majority to try and at least communicate at a basic level, English, gets a good old mangling. The results are often delightful and frequently hysterical. I mean, I live in a place where bunnychow, falooda, string hoppers, longanisa, vadas, shawarmas and kucheree are all common types of food!

One particularly rich vein of amusement is ‘Hinglish’, which a term designed to be at least a partial excuse for the appalling mis-use of grammatical English. So if you can’t speak ‘standard’ English, just claim the resultant attempts as a dialect. Why, to be sure to be sure, don’t we have ‘Iringlish’ or, och aye the noo, ‘Sconglish’? Mind you, God knows, the English themselves can’t use the damn language properly, either. I have long wanted to speak at considerable length to the British Greengrocers’ Annual Conference on the topic of apostrophes.

I am doing the needful. I am wanting to raise the matter with the concerned authorities. I am putting my car in your backside. If it is not working, then what to do? Please be telling the gentleman the train is leaving yesterday. I am not understanding. One piece three Dirhams only. He is out of station only. Mr Mukherjee has expired. You ‘go down’ from the car when you leave it, but a ‘godown’ is also a shed or storage space. This is the sort of stuff that underpins the lovely, apocryphal, tale of the annoyed Emirates passenger complaining to the purser after his repeated use of the crew call button had been ignored: “I am fingering one of your girls for thirty minutes and she is not coming!”

These little linguistic differences can sit at the centre of some marvellous misunderstandings and incomprehensions, but clarity can often be tantalisingly close. Many moons ago, having just arrived here and started work with my entertainingly maverick colleague Matt The Ad Manager, we were in the habit of ordering lunchtime burgers from the burger joint (called Hot Burger or Tasty Burger or something) below our office which was, at the time, in deeply fashionable Ajman. The burgers were always pink in the middle, which Matt could not abide and his efforts to correct the problem got more and more frustrated with each passing day:

Burgers well done please!

Can you cook the burger a lot?

Fry the burger for a long time!

Cook the burger more, yes?


Finally we drafted in Mohan the office boy and, after a great deal of explaining, he did that lovely dawning comprehension look that Manuel does in Fawlty Towers when the penny drops.

Mohan called in the order: “Doay burger. Cookie cookie!”

Perfection was subsequently delivered.


Seabee said...

I love the old fashioned words still in common use too - 'avail' comes immediately to mid.

Mars said...

haha at the passenger!!!

i*maginate said...

seabee, don't get ya. Isn't avail short for 'available'?

alexander...the paragraph starting "I am doing the needful" made me crack up big time. It's so tempting to put that whole paragraph in my blog description!

What is this fascination with the word 'only'? I don't get it!

In the car, I decided to tune in to the radio today (seeing as you mention radio a lot and old-fashioned me just listens to tapes - and cds on an adventurous day) and in a phone-in competition, this lady said 'come again'.... errrrrrrrrr, she wasn't American.

Hmmm ok, whatever.

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