Nation on the March

Nation on the March
Nation on the March

Oct 21, 2009

Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? / Kyaa Aap Paanchvi Paas Se Tez Hain?

If some one tells me that the longest word in any of the major English language dictionaries is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis and shortest English word is so and so and the most difficult word to understand is so and so and the most difficult word to spell is such and such and the most difficult word to pronounce is such and such, I can easily get away by saying that English is not my mother tongue.

Some one whose mother tongue it really is also could get away by saying something else - I do not know what – but there must be really a way out! Perhaps she would say : “please do not bother me with such trivia” , which for that matter can be said by any one , mother tongue or not .

One would say that there are dictionaries, thesaurus and what not, so much well within our reach and so why bother .

And here I would not give up the chase and change the question a bit. “Can I ask you meanings of some simple words which you have to answer correctly &  completely  and  in first attempt?

My prey will readily agree and I  shoot : who is a “widow”?

Quickly and confidently she would answer: “ a lady whose husband has died ! Right ?"

Beaming with the smile of a winner, I answer: “ wrong, as was expected. Your answer is incomplete. Widow is a lady whose husband has died and who has not remarried”.

It is not my superior knowledge that I was trying to exhibit ( which certainly I don’t have) but our over-confidence ,  turned into our limitation,  in explaining simple, common words which they teach in kindergarten or first standard ( not to talk of 5th grade)  !

If you disagree with me, please write down what it means (for human beings) “ to walk” and “ to run” and compare your answer with this :

To walk : to advance or travel by foot at a moderate speed; move by advancing the feet alternatively so that there is always one foot on the ground.

To run : to go quickly by moving the legs more rapidly than at a walk and in such a manner that for an instant in each step both feet are off the ground

Are you a game for some more questions? Here they are. Would you have correctly and completely define the following?

To eat : To take into mouth and swallow for nourishment
                           Chair : A seat, especially for one person, usually having four legs for support                             and a rest for the back and often having rests for the arms.

Rain: Water that is condensed from aqueous vapour in the atmosphere and falls to earth in drops more than 1/50 inch ( or (0.5 mm) in diameter.
Sweet ( taste)  : 1. having the taste or flavour characteristic of sugar, honey, etc. 2. producing the one of the four basic taste sensations that is not bitter, sour or salt.
( courtesy : Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary )

So, next time you are planning to explain to a young one what a pillow is, for god's sake, ask for some time, go to your study table, double check whether what you are going to explain is correct and complete and then only you can face yourself in the mirror without guilt or shame.

Henry Watson Fowler (1858-1933) , is an extreme example of what a stickler for English usage can be and to experience this, you have to wade through my 1975 edition of 725-pages thick “ A Dictionary of Modern English Usage” written by him & first published in 1926.

Sir Ernest Gowers wrote in the preface that “ .. This epoch-making book made the name of Fowler a household word in all English-speaking countries….”

Quoting from The Second World War, v. 615, he further wrote : ‘ Its influence extended even to the battlefield. “ Why must you write intensive here?” asked the Prime Minister    (Winston  Churchill , some time in 1944 - as per this blogger) in a minute to the Director of Military intelligence about the plans for invasion of Normandy. “Intense is the right word. You should read Fowler’s Modern English Usage on the use of the two words.”

Only such a person , wielding his pen with the precision  a surgeon's scalpel can devote three full pages while explaining to me one of the smallest and simplest words, namely “as” !!

Eureka !! My summum bonum  should now be to consult dictionary , even when not in doubt and even for definitions of simple words. One, it will be a good pastime. Secondly, it will give make us smile once in a while  at our stupidity and, more importantly, train us to think and communicate in a more organized way.

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