'Taken' for granted

Last Updated 20 January 2018, 17:28 IST

Now, I don't for a minute want to ring any alarm bells. I don't even want to imply that I have stumbled on a Yossarian-like campaign to slowly, inexorably remove words from the English alphabet. But the truth has to be told. Something dire is underway. And it's so subtle, so below the radar, most of us don't even know it is happening until well after it has finished happening. I'm talking about how the word 'taken' is being taken from us.

I first noticed it some years ago in a sweet little Irish town called Drogheda. Our hosts had invited a covey of Irishmen and women over to meet us, and the room was flowing with wit and repartee. Listening idly, a state that usually happens when I am a few Rieslings down, I noticed that every time people had to use the simple two-syllable word 'taken', or the one-syllable one of 'take', they were not. Instead, they were substituting 'brought' and 'bring'.

At the end of the dinner party, the hostess asked a friend, "And would you like to bring home some of that meatloaf? I have so much left." As I gaped on in much mystification, the friend happily assented and took home a very generous helping of the aforementioned meatloaf. Yes, took home.

This evening of epiphany shook me to the core of my English-thinking, English-speaking, English-dreaming (so sue me!) heart. Why were all these people, who looked to have been the beneficiaries of a good education, using the wrong word at the right place? With so much confidence, too. Was it me or was it them?

What started in Ireland didn't stay in Ireland, though. All too soon, my alert ears were constantly picking up on the sharply felt absence (at least by me) of taken/take/took, all over the Western world, and yes, specifically in the US of A. Soon I was obsessed and obsessing. I had become a collector of strange sentences, sentences that ran like this: she was brought to the aerial yoga class by Matt. Will you be bringing Lana to the prom, then? He brought the bike away last night. Are you bringing that apple crumble to the party?

All of this fell so harshly on my tender ears, they (my ears, not the sentences) fairly jangled. It was clear that my education had failed me.

This was also a tricky situation. How tricky, I soon realised, when in the momentary grip of wanting desperately to fit in, I found myself saying, "Did Joe bring the car along the longer route?" The utterly dumbfounded expression on my listener's face brought home to me that 'bring' and its variants were not to be used lightly. But, how then were they to be used, dash it? There was, not so obviously, some trick to this. This was language racism, and I felt very much the outsider.

A casually uttered sentence like, "I'm going north and bringing the car with me" fairly scrambled my brains. As did, "The bellboy brought me to my room in the hotel." Elsewhere when asked, "May I bring you home," I replied in all politeness that I could and would take myself off home, which, as you can guess, didn't make me any new friends. "Hop in, I'll bring you to the store," someone offered brightly and I just couldn't stop my wincing in response.

He then gave me a strange look and drove off. "Could you bring this to Mr S upstairs," yet someone else asked me, and taking, yes, a deep breath, I replied stoutly: "Of course, I will take the tea to Mr S upstairs." I tried to be cool yet firm, but it was clear that the other person thought I was slightly off. Shaking her head, she hurried off into her kitchen.

Some amount of psychological damage was being done to my psyche, too. Where was I when this memo was sent out, obliterating 'taken' from the language? Would I have to pussyfoot through life, forever avoiding that word? When the next Liam Neeson film in the series was released, what would I have to call it? When the next alien invasion happens, will they say, "Bring me to your leader?"

Imagine my immense relief then, to be back home in India and hear someone say, "My girlfriend just took off, yaar, without a word to me." "They say 'bring' for 'take' out West", I murmured softly to him. He looked astounded. Then burst out: "Bring? Take? Ki farak painda? What difference does it make?"

Take that, you insidious word thieves. You will never succeed in India. Simply because most of English falls under the 'ki farak painda' category to most of us Indians!  

(Published 20 January 2018, 12:06 IST)

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