May 12, 2007


An editor at the desk the other day asked what should be the word to mean 'to cause something to happen earlier,' the reply was: to earlierise. The editor who asked the question seemed a bit sceptical of the existence of the word. An instant search on Google, with -ise, returned fewer than a hundred instances and with -ize, there were fewer than 150 instances; but none of the instances gave the meaning. Only an online dictionary said it was a transitive verb; but there was no meaning. Dictionaries at hand have not listed the verb. A search later in the 1968 edition of Chamber's Twentieth Century Dictionary showed 'earlierise, v.t. to do at a date earlier than that arranged.' The verb is back-formed, but a verb that is.

Pet expressions

'The bus fell into a roadside ditch after the driver lost control over the steering wheel.' Of course, he had lost control. The accident would not have happened, otherwise.

'The learned judge acquitted one of the accused in the case as his guilt was not proved beyond doubt.' Judges are not that dumb as to acquit the accused proved guilty beyond doubt.

Both the expressions should be banished, immediately.

May 01, 2007

It's the principle

The News and Observer blog on grammar had the April 23 entry headlined 'It's the principal,' which quoted an Associated Press report that said 'payments of both interest and principle...' The other day a news draft landed at the news desk which said 'the Election Commission has in pricipal decided to....' Again, 'principal' and 'principle,' as in the college principle, have so often been interchanged in the news drafts and less so in the final versions that they have come to be concidered pet peeves, only to no dismay of the writers and editors.

Kal baishakhi or Nor'wester

Is nor'wester, as for kal baishakhi which is thunderstorm of a kind, part of the standard English expressions? asked a guest editor in the newsroom the other day as he had seen the word nor'easter in use in reports on storms coming from the United States or Canada and inferred that the word nor'wester is a northern hemisphere variation on nor'easter.

Lookup in the dictionaries and search on the Google failed to establish the existence of any such word as used for a storm. But before going into details on nor'wester, it would be better to have the word nor'wester, or northeaster in full form, defined as a cyclonic storm of the East Coast of North America, so called because the winds over the coastal area preceding the storm's passage are from the northeast. They may occur at any time of the year but are most frequent and most violent between September and April. And there are very insignificant debates where nor'easters should be called nor'westers on the belief that the most strongest winds are not from the east or northeast, which is not true. In northeaster, strong northeast winds are generated by coastal storms and as winds circulate counterclockwise around the centres of low pressures, the areas to the northwest of the centre get the northeast winds.

All the defining instances call northwester, or nor'wester for short, kind of northwesterly wind, and not storm, typical of New Zealand that blows over the Canterbury Plains and is known as Canterbury nor'westers, which is hot, usually 30 to 35 degrees Celsius, incredibly dry and very strong wind which can blow for days on end, typically occurring between . A good nor'wester can also turn crops literally, sucking the moisture out of everything. In Ch. IV of Jack London's Adventure, the text reads: 'By the second day of the northwester, Sheldon was in collapse from his fever.'

The online glossary of the American Meteorological Society defines kal baishakhi as a short-live squall at the onset of the southwest monsoon (April--June) in Bengal, with a bit of technical details from a 1938 paper, Nature of 'Nor'westers' of Bengal and their similarity with others, by Bn Banerji. The article title has nor'westers in quotation marks. A NASA web site says, 'In Bangladesh and adjacent portions of India a type of storm known as a "Nor'wester" occasionally occurs in the spring.' The word in quotations marks does again indicate that it was not a synonym proper or proper synonym of kal baishakhi. A US Navy document on Bay of Bengal storm forecast, which also has the word in quotation marks, says it is a severe type of thunderstorm, with strong squalls, typical of Bengal and is locally described as 'kal-baishakhi' or the 'fateful thing' of the month of Baishakh (April 15--May 15). There are thunder and lightning, followed by downpours of rain and sometimes hail, driven by strong winds, sometimes having almost hurricane force.

Few Indian newspapers have begun to use 'Bengal nor'wester,' although only in headline where the text contains the word storm or thunderstorm, to mean kal baishakhi as opposed to Canterbury nor'wester. I think this qualification of the word nor'wester goes perfectly well with the grammar and the context.