As a kid I swear I was really happy and gay! Now I have to say I am only happy :-( And why is that? Because through my growing up years the Americans systematically stole words from my lexicon and gave them meanings which ensured I can’t really pass them forward to the generations ahead.
Once upon a time you could tell a kid when the neighbourhood cat would come avisiting, “Look, the pussy cat is here.” Now I almost squirm uncomfortably when my 3-year old nephew points out a pussy cat to me! Or when going through his pictorial book, I can feel my tone change, as I have to point out the fowl called cock that I immediately try and deflect as Mr.Hen! And of course none of the stories I tell him can have a member of the feline species eat a rooster!
Similarly, I am afraid, in the coming years avid sportsmen would not be able to say ‘I like playing with balls’ — even if they were stating the obvious.
A lot of us had practically stopped using the idiom ‘A bird in hand is worth two in the bush’ for obvious reasons. Interestingly, this is one rare example where Americans brought back a word into ‘permissible conversation’ thanks to their political supremo — George W.Bush. Further President Bush brings the added advantage of rescuing another one of the ‘lost words’ — the ass! As far as contextual usage is concerned, mercifully this is one word that retains its in-sentence context — though its intended meaning has been corrupted too. I am sure some of you have read that ‘priest peddles his ass‘ joke.
The American influence of course permeates their entire continent. I don’t know if you have heard the Canadian slogan — if you’re a Canadian, show me your beaver!
Then there are other things in our lives where conventional words have been given new meanings making their usage even in the original context risqué.
For example, a screw helps you bond… a wooden plank with another. However, I remember a real-life incident during our architecture carpentry workshops, where this girl shouted across the room — “I want a screw.” I am sure you can guess the reaction from everyone around!
A long time ago, I also recall having seen an embroidery designer say that customers pay more for a hand job than a machine-job! Talking of designers and clothes, Tantra (the t-shirt makers) banked on another such lost word and sold quite a few t-shirts that said — ‘Rajasthan, the best place in India to look for a hump.’
However, when people profess “We can make out”, they may merely be referring to their superior ability to tell one shade of green from another! Similarly, a rueful “My husband always comes before me” could simply be a reference to the husband’s punctuality on their way back from their respective jobs!
Closer home, coming from a Kashmiri Pandit family, it was common for us to cook at home what we in Hindi call ‘keema’ (minced meat), bought from the local butcher. And towards creating the finest quality keema it was common for us at home to further beat our meat! Thank God for two things: One, in those days we never had to converse at home in English. Two, today when we do converse a lot more in English — we are vegetarians!