September 27, 2007

Swindlers who drug and loot people

In news for quite a long time though, gangs that drug and loot people, especially passengers on buses and trains, have made Dhaka front-page headlines for a few months. The gang members offer passengers biscuits or similar food items containing sedatives and even drinking water mixed with intoxicants to drug them unconscious before decamping with what the passengers have on them. Among the policemen and in Bangla newspapers, such gangs are known as 'ajnan (or agyan, in popular spelling, or even oggan, in the basest form) party.' As the use of the phrase 'agyan party' sounds a bit awkward in English, a decision was made on 'drugger' (from 'to drug' people) to be used instead. This also sounded awkward and the word is not in dictionaries in the sense. But it kept being used with no other appropriate words or phrases around. Besides, 'drugger' in today's fringe English means 'someone among the friends doing drugs; a polite, friendly way of calling someone like a drug addict' or 'someone who calls in the middle of the night and, being sentimental, talks for minutes even if the mobile is on voice mail or he is not being listened to.' Some proposed the use of 'doper' which is also an agent noun with a sense of intransitivity, someone who smokes marijuana on a regular basis.

A report in an Indian newspaper in 1999, as searched online, called such a group 'biscuit gang' and explained the 'modus operandi' of the gang in a sentence down the second paragraph. Another report in an Indian newspaper said 'the police busted a drugging gang operating in Delhi.' Yes, 'drugging gang.' This is perhaps the best of the options, and 'drugging gangsters.' 'Doping gang' might do, but the instance of the phrase is rarer, compared with the instance of 'drugging gang.' But it is not the drug gang, which will mean a gang involved in the traffic in drug substances. An Agence France-Presse report, datelined Bangkok, January 8, 1997 was headlined 'Thai police investigating tourist drugging gang,' but the copy carefully avoided using the phrase and used narration to describe the event.

September 26, 2007

Hardly hit or hit hard

An out-of-the-station writer in a report on a clash between villagers and a gang of smugglers said 'the villagers earlier hardly protested against the operation of the gang.' He meant 'strongly,' of course. The wrong use of the adverb was spotted and corrected. But another use of the word escaped (?) the editor's eye and this time it was a copy by an in-house writer. The report said 'the poor are hardly affected by the spiralling prices of essential commodities.' He meant 'badly affected' or 'hit hard.'

September 25, 2007

On the loss of hyphens

A news agency report on the de-hyphenation of 16,000 words in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary said the words lost hyphens in the age of the internet. They have either become one word or two separate words. The report contained examples in a sentence: 'Bumble-bee is now bumblebee, ice-cream is ice cream and pot-belly is pot belly.' But the one-word example of 'bumblebee' came out hyphenated, not as used in forming compound noun, but in a way hyphen gets in between two portions of the word when they break down on the edge of a column.

It could perhaps be corrected when the newspaper pages come out on 'whites (paper)' as proof copies for corrections. But hardly a story is read then unless the headline strikes a big mismatch.

September 24, 2007

Indifference of a different sort

The prefix in- does not always make words antonyms. People of different sorts can be equally indifferent and there can be indifference of different sorts. The prefix does not negate the meaning. The draft of a report on electoral reforms dialogues between the election authorities and some political parties, who have entered into an alliance, should have said the parties would put forth identical proposals on reforms. But the writer came up with the word 'indifferent' [in the sense of not being different] to mean 'identical': 'The party on Friday decided to submit indifferent proposals for electoral reforms with all the components of the alliance during the dialogue scheduled for November 4.' One of the editors burdened with load beyond his capacity suggested the word 'indifferent' when the writer asked for the English word of the Bangla expression.

September 14, 2007

Troublesome -ages

Four -ages keep causing inconveniences to writers and editors. Somehow writers and editors take 'damages' for plural of 'damage,' which it is not. Damages are given for a damage done; they are not to mean 'damage in more cases than one.' Another -age, wastage, often appears in problematic contexts. There can nothing be something as 'industrial wastages.' Wastage means the process of wasting, loss by wear or waste or an amount that is wasted or lost by wear. Yet another -age, bondage, is often used in wrong context in reports. Writers prefer to write bondage (the state of a slave or a prisoner) as it sounds more formal than bond, a word which should be correct in most contexts. People can be kept in bondage but no two friendly people can have bondage between them; there should rather be a bond of friendship. There is another -age, a jargon for 'link' in most cases, that troubles writers, and, of course, editors. Linkage is often used in the first meaning of the word 'link' --- (someone or) something that connects two or more people, but the primary meaning of the word linkage, the process of linking or being linked, is often stashed away to be expressed in some complex phrases. When an organisation 'forms linkages with' ethnic minority groups, it, in effect, carries out activities or shares information with them. Forming linkages 'struts and frets,' but other choices signify comprehensibility.

September 08, 2007

Opertationalize... conditionalities

One on the desk with commendable ability at editing business stories, asked by another, with little understanding of financial matters, about the meaning of a phrase that was in the story, said 'classified loans' meant 'bad debts.' That's that. The writer should have changed the phrase in the first place, at least for common newspaper readers. Loans that are substandard, doubtful or loss are collectively known as 'classified loans.' But why should common readers bother about such perfect definitions?

Such pretentious stand-ins, out of social development and financial harangues, keep coming in news reports, which, despite insistence by writers and permissiveness by editors, are best avoided. A report the other day said some funds for flood victims were 'operationalized.' Other such words most frequently used in reports are 'conditionalities,' 'modaliites' and 'utilize,' which should have long been funeralized.

Simple, easy words for 'operationalize' are 'to carry out,' 'to work on,' 'to arrange' or even 'to do.' 'The plan will be operationalized in 18 months' time' could easily be rephrased as 'the plan will be carried out in a year and a half.' Development organisations define 'conditionality' as the principle that access to new loans, aid and debt relief should be conditioned on meeting certain conditions, which is nothing but a condition. The Tribune of India in an editorial in August 1998 wrote 'The World Bank and the IMF gladly offered to help, but with conditions -- or conditionalities in their jargon -- attached.'

Similar is the case with the word 'modality.' 'The programme will operationalize its objectives through two primary modalities' means nothing but 'the programme will work in two ways.' 'The government is planning expansion in the modalities of shelter for flood victims' in effect means nothing but 'the government will offer more kinds of shelter for flood victims.'

Another word that has been consistently abused is 'utilize' which means 'to make use of.' This over-used word is used in place of 'use' in most cases. 'To utilize,' which means to make do with something not normally used for the purpose, is not a synonym of 'to use' with classy cachet --- 'he used the laptop to write the report as his desktop is out of order' and 'he utilised the laptop in the library as a pillow.' The difference is clear.