A word with you

Trinidad Express
May 8, 1999

WEST INDIANS like big words. Most of us prefer to be domiciled in a residence instead of a house. If the wiring is faulty and the inevitable accident befalls, it is a conflagration and not a fire. We start young.

There is the story of the little boy who, when asked by his teacher to spell "mosquito" replied scornfully, "That little thing? Give me something big to spell like 'lion'."

Speech-making is a Caribbean art-form and tradition. Weddings, christenings (not necessarily in that order), funerals and politics provide the opportunities and inevitable pitfalls. One speaker refused to cast any aspirations even though he had been much malingered by parties who he preferred to remain synonymous. A politician was "privileged to speak at this millstone in the history of this hysterical institution."

In Britain, at a Labour Party meeting, the Chairman in his opening remarks said, "Brothers, as you all know, certain allegations have been made against me.

"I will reply to those at the next meeting after I have confronted the alligators." A Vincentian politician, asked to declare open an International Workshop on Emergency and Disaster Prevention, ended his address with, "It gives me great pleasure to declare this disaster open."

However, even disasters of that magnitude do not diminish our love of words. We like them to roll trippingly off the tongue. We love their measured majesty. West Indians would love to be able to say, "A superabundance of talent skilled in the preparation of gastronomic concoctions will impair the quality of a certain potable solution made by immersing a gallinaceous bird in ebullient Adam's ale" instead of the simpler "Too many cooks spoil the broth".

Political correctness in the United States has provided us with an even greater menu of choices. For "boring" the politically correct equivalent is "differently interesting" or "charm-free". People are no longer clumsy. They are "uniquely coordinated". The dead are merely "terminally inconvenienced", and the dishonest are "ethically disoriented". The mafia are "members of a career-offender cartel" and old jokes are "previously recounted humorous narratives". Shoplifters are "non-traditional shoppers" and vagrants are "directionally impoverished persons".

When the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hired mercenaries to carry out raids in Nicaragua, the agency referred to them as "unilaterally controlled Latino assets". When a cruise missile crashed, the air-force announced that it had "impacted with the ground prematurely" and that the test "terminated five minutes earlier than planned".

A US State Department manual refers to a hammer as a "manually powered fasterner-driving impact device", a steel nut as a "hexiform rotatable surface compression unit" and a tent as a "frame-supported tension structure". Anhydrous ammonia, which can kill or cause injury, is not classified as a poison gas by the US Department of Transport. Instead it is an "inhalation hazard".

We West Indians should not be too critical. After all, individuals who perforce are constrained to be domiciled in vitreous structures of patent frangibility should on no account employ petrous formations as projectiles.

Truly, living in glass houses ourselves we should not throw stones. Or tell nursery rhymes otherwise we could suffer the fate that follows. A research team proceeded toward the apex of a natural geological protuberance, the purpose of their expedition being the procurement of a sample of fluid hydride of oxygen in a large vessel, the exact size of which was unspecified. One member of the team precipitously descended, sustaining severe damage to the upper cranial portion of his anatomical structure; subsequently the second member of the team performed a self-rotational translation oriented in the direction taken by the first team member.

Truly, the lesson of Jack, Jill and the hill is most appropriate.

But will we ever learn that everything that coruscates with effulgence is not ipso facto aurous? Not very likely.

Tony Deyal was most recently visible explaining that what he really meant was "all that glitters is not gold".