June 24, 2014

Gong and others

A report on the detailed area plan of the capital Dhaka that landed at the desk a few days ago named groups grabbing pieces of land as X and Gong, Y and Gong, Z and Gong and others. X, Y or Z are names of people. But what on earth is a gong? Or a Gong, with G in upper case? Any English dictionary will say: a metal disc with a turned rim as a noun, or to sound a gong like that of a gong being struck as a verb. It is a Malay word in English. In informal UK English, this can also mean a medal or an award. Why should then groups of people carry the word gong in their names when they are not members of any orchestra? The reporter readily came up with a government document naming every group by phrases ending in Gong. It is a mistake on part of the people who prepared the document and on part of the reporter who copied from there. The Arabic word ‘waghairah’ (وغیرہ), meaning ‘and others,’ or ‘et cetera’ or ‘et alia’ in Latin, entered Persian and it got into Bengali during the Mughal period as bagayrah (there is no w-b distinction in spoken Bengali; it is there in grammar especially with words coming directly from Sanskrit), later shortened into ‘gayrah’ (others). This ‘gayrah’ (গয়রহ) became ‘gang’ (গং) in Bengali as ‘sakin’ (সাকিন), address, became ‘sang’ (সাং) and ‘tarikh’ (তারিখ), date, became ‘tang’ (তাং). This abridged form is still in currency in Bengali legalese, often finding its way to documents that government authorities use. There are many who still think that গং is a corrupt form of কোং (কোম্পানি), company. Who could have thunk it?

August 30, 2011

A very young version of Doogie Howser MD

When our kids are ill, we need to see a child's doctor, a children's doctor, a doctor for children or even a paediatrician, who is specialised in the 'branch of medicine that deals with the medical care of infants, children, and adolescents.'

A report that reached the desk the other day had the phrase 'child doctor' instead, a literal translation of the word paediatrician, derived from Greek pais, child, and iatros, doctor or healer, of course the writer was not proficient in Greek, and he had resorted to a direct translation of the Bengali phrase that colloquially, perhaps informally too, relates to paediatrician, shishu daktar.

July 18, 2011

To put one's gun on someone else's shoulder and fire

It is not a good idea to rest the gun on someone's shoulder when it is fired. This hunting warning which could mean that it is not safe for neither the hunter nor the shoulder volunteer as it could lead to an accident and the shoulder might not be firm enough to sustain the pressure of the explosion is used in Bengali as a phrase, parer ghare banduk rekhe daga (to fire resting the gun on someone's shoulder), or anyer ghare banduk rekhe shikar kara (to rest the gun on someone's shoulder and fire for hunting), to mean that someone is passing the blame for an action onto another. The meaning of the phrase in Bengali, when read in the context of hunting, could also mean to do something that could be disastrous. Reporters walking beats of politics often get tempted to translate the phrase, literally, to put editors in trouble especially when they are also tempted by their love for the Bengali language.

November 09, 2010

Sawed off rifle

Two reporters, one writing the the story and the other feeding information, in a report on a crime scene said the police had seized a cut-rifle from the place. What on earth is a cut-rifle? But it was not difficult for the editor to understand what the reporters meant. A sawed off rifle or a sawn off rifle, or off may take a hyphen fore such as sawed-off or sawn-off. Cut-rifle is again a mother-tongue intervention but that is what made the understanding the thing easy. But why would people saw off the barrels of their rifle? This way they are easier to hide and the shot pattern is more spread out, giving the shooter a better chance to hit the target.

July 06, 2009

Practical viewers

A report, written by an out-of-the-station correspondent described an incident quoting some 'practical viewers,' the people who witnessed the account or who were present there when the incident took place. Reporters are in most cases encouraged to write 'witnesses,' and not 'eyewitnesses,' which has been pushed into overuse, as witnesses also see the incidents with their eyes, although it calls for the writers and editors to write 'eyewitness accounts' in some cases. But this 'practical viewers' has nevere been encountered before.

July 23, 2008

Tenses out of temporal context

Two tenses most frequently abused by writers and even editors are the present continuous and the present perfect continuous tense. Copies keep coming in, or even getting in print, with sentences such as 'the government is doing this for a month,' which needs to be in the present perfect continuous tense because of the period of time, and 'the agency has been doing the work,' which needs to be in the present continuous tense because of the absence of any period or point of time to go with the verb. A glance at reports published in Dhaka newspapers even in the past shows such mistakes have kept coming in print... for years.

July 15, 2008

Not all words do fit in all contexts

A copy on corruption said charges were framed against a few caretaker engineers. Governments can be caretakers, in Bangladesh, and buildings can have caretakers, too. But why on earth should there be caretaker engineers, as position on job, unless, of course, some engineers volunteer to take care of a building, or a place, or even a construction job? Baffling! Another reporter passing by said the writer meant 'superintending' by 'caretaker,' both of which can be used for the single Bengali word depending on the context. And the reporter might nonchalantly have missed the context as he was writing.