August 09, 2007

Fixing and fixation

A report on the decision of a government committee on gas prices caused quite a stir. The report was on the price 'fixation' committee which 'fixated' the prices of gas. One of the seniors at the editors' weekly meeting asked them not to use the word 'fixate' to mean 'fix.' There is the catch.

Modern dictionaries do not list 'fixate' as a verb, they consider 'fixated' an adjective to mean 'unable to stop thinking about something.' The Concise Oxford Dictionary lists 'fixate' as a verb to mean 'direct one's gaze on' or 'to arrest at immature stage, causing abnormal attachment to persons or things,' quite the one the modern dictionaries mean by the adjective 'fixated.'

Although the COD has 'to settle, determine, specify (price, date, place)' as a definition of the verb 'fix,' any fixing is usually a crime, as in 'price fixing allegations against four importers...' or 'price fixing prevention act,' or even 'EU fines in price-fixing cases can run as high as....' Instances are there that 'price fixing' is also used not to mean crimes, as in 'the bill includes an agency or distribution agreement, but does not include a price fixing agreement.' When in doubt if fixing prices hints at a crime, in meaning, there is one way out --- 'the government has set the gas price at... .'

But what about 'fixation?' The COD says it could mean fixing, being fixed, coagulation, act or process of being fixated and (popularly) obsession. Modern dictionaries say it means 'an inability to stop thinking about something or someone, or an unnaturally strong interest in them.' If fixation could mean fixing or being fixed, which also has a meaning of specifying prices, it could be used in that sense, although such instances are rare outside the Indian subcontinent. In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, the word 'fixation' to mean 'setting (the prices)' is in wide use: milk price fixation committee, fare fixation committee, minimum wages fixation commiittee, etc. The 'fixation' has been used in a Western Australian legislation: Wheat Products (Prices Fixation) Act 1938. Note the plural 'prices.'

A gas price committee or a committee on gas prices could have been used, if the people invovled with the committees and the journalists covering the news had not been fixated on the use of 'fixation.'