A unique lunacy

Where letters belong and where they don't in English.

Players like Mbappe, Dzyuba, Zlatan, Stjernholm were freely kicking the ball around without realising my problem.

When I was learning English, I am still learning, for that matter, some words were a puzzle to me. Like, island. I was wondering what ‘s’ was doing in that island because it was valid only in writing; in pronunciation ‘s’ simply disappeared. I could not pronounce it as Iceland giving a place of honour to ‘s’ also. Take ‘know’. When we pronounce it as ‘no’, why include ‘k’ and ‘w’? I still don’t know, not I don’t no.

In honour, like ‘s’ in island ‘h’ does the disappearing act. That’s why it is ‘an honour’ not ‘a honour’. Similar is the case with hour. But in house, ‘h’ remains intact, like its roof or foundation, and so it is not ouse, but house. Rules, whichever grammarian formed them, wary from word to word, and are not questionable - like in religion where there are only answers but no questions. And you should master the rules if you want to have mastery over the language. Wonder who that grammarian was.

Talking of wonder, ‘No wonder he came late’ is different from ‘Wonder, why he came late’. But what about ‘I wonder why he comes late.’ That’s the beauty of wonder; the same word can be used so differently.

Isn’t that wonderful? But wait, there are more. There is ‘little wonder’ and ‘small wonder’ as if it can be quantified. And the duration of wonder can be measured too. Like, for example, a nine days’ wonder, a seven-day wonder, and a one-day wonder — listed in the descending order. But if a nine-day wonder itself, as the dictionary says, is a subject that arouses general surprise or public interest for a short time then one calculate the effect in just one day wonder.

Despite such pretty weird linguistic features English is a great leveller. The pronoun for the noblest person and the one at the bottom of any list is he or she, depending upon the gender. But in Kannada, such a rule does not apply. It has to be specific — avaru or avanu/avalu. There is no avaru in English.

Whenever sports events hit the headlines, my problem begins. I am all at sea when it comes to the names of players. During tennis, while I could easily pronounce the names of Leander or Vijay Amritraj, I struggle with names like Björkm, Björn Borg or Novak Djokovic as their opponents struggle with their aces or volleys. When IPL was in full swing Lungisani Ngidi was troubling the batsmen with his swings, but my struggle was with his name — is he to be called Nidi or Gidi. Which was the silent letter in Ngidi? Why could not his parents name him like Kagiso Rabada, which is so easy on the lips?

During the football world cup, I had a similar set of problems. Players like Mbappe, Dzyuba, Zlatan, Stjernholm were freely kicking the ball around without realising my problem. Messi, Leonardo, Beckham pose no hitch to me at least, if not to their opponents. My struggle with the unique lunacy of the language continues. And I enjoy it.

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A unique lunacy

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