What to do, we are like that only – Indians and our English.

Read the below statement:

Myself Lolita Sengupta, would like to take you on a trip down the mistake-lane of English usage in India, which you might anyways know, but you can be rest assured I will only dwell on the most commonsensical things. You can reply back and let me know what you think. Don’t worry if you can’t do it immediately, just revert whenever you can.

There have been many moments when I have cringed, hearing wrong English being spoken or written. I am an unabashed snob when it comes to languages, and while I agree that the main aim of language is to communicate, there is really no reason not to try and perfect it once the initial communication aspect is taken care of. Anything that is worth doing is worth doing well.

The italicized paragraph in red will show you how much we Indians use English by directly translating it from our native tongue. Which is not a bad way to start, but since much can be misinterpreted, it is always worthwhile to learn the right usage. In a global company, especially, like Cognizant, chances of others not understanding the nuances of your English are substantially more, and the reason for confusion/misunderstanding increases proportionately too.

Myself Lolita Sengupta – if I start on this wrong a foot, chances are that the deeper I get into a conversation, the deeper will be the hole I dig myself into. My audience will already be put off, and that’s half the battle lost. I will never understand the need to write extra letters for something which can be said, simply, as ‘I’m Lolita Sengupta’. Similarly, we often say, for instance, ‘Sumit and myself will go to your place tonight’. That is wrong, quite apart from the factual error of dragging Sumit anywhere being a Herculean task. The word ‘myself’ is not a subject. The subject is I. So, the correct usage should be “Sumit and I will go to your place tonight”. It’s shorter. And it’s correct. But don’t worry, we wont actually go.

How many times have we heard someone say, I could not ‘cope up’ with something? One does NOT cope up with things, one just copes with it. It always reminds me of my dad who despite 20 odd years in Bihar, never quite got the hang of the language and would invariably say ‘agaari agaari chalo’ for aage aage chalo’. He never had a valid explanation for the extra letters. Like he does not have any excuse for why even in Calcutta, when he gets on a taxi, he will have to speak in Hindi, – bad Hindi to boot – never mind that it is the capital of Bengal and the cabbies all understand and also speak, with varying degrees of fluency, Bengali.

Well, maybe he could not ‘resist himself’, one would think. Wrong again. One has to be supremely egotistical and with incredible belief in one’s own irresistibility to not be able to resist oneself. One can’t resist (object/action), not oneself. Many a time (many a times is not right, you either write ‘many times’ or ‘many a time’), – increasingly often, sadly, – one hears the word ‘anyways’. I checked the last edition of Oxford and Cambridge and Webster dictionaries, and as of right now, there is no word called anyways. The word is ‘anyway’.  It might be the hip and fashionable thing to say and may be folks from One Direction and that Justin Bieber fellow says it, but trust me, they know nothing, it is wrong English. And it is not hip to say the wrong thing, however many people do it. I have no problem with not knowing the language, but to know it and then use it wrongly – that gets my goat. You should not have to discuss it (and not discuss about it – that is tautology, it’s just discuss), it should really be a matter of common sense (but don’t extend it to be ‘commonsensical’ – that word does not in fact exist)…..However, I note with trepidation that MS Word’s autocorrect did not place the red squiggly below it, so….maybe I am hopelessly out of touch….

You will always find very nice people along life’s way, who will tell you not to worry, to ‘be rest assured’. Rest is the verb here and the word should be ‘rest assured’. And when this help is offered, we all think ‘he/she is too good’. This happens so often, about a person/event/performance/anything that I myself am confused as to how right or wrong it is, but every time I hear it, I think, ‘too good’ for what? One of my friends (not ‘one of my friend’, please) says looking for errors in grammatical usage will be the death of me, especially since pen is mightier than the sword, and I might be hoisted by my own petard, but I am too old now to change my ways, so sorry if I am bugging you too much.

I hear spoken in conference calls phrases like ‘he explained me’. Believe me, it is not a philosophical statement but a missing preposition. Along similar lines, you can also find words like ‘he said me’ instead of ‘he said to me’. And then you will get the barrage of overcompensation with ‘he told to me’, instead of ‘he told me’ and ‘he asked to me’ instead of ‘he asked me’. I don’t have the wherewithal to explain the intricacies of the language. English is not the most scientific of languages, with very fixed rules, and it gathers a lot of moss as it rolls down the years through continents and cultures.

And here is my pet peeve. Revert. Why do Indians love the word so? You will see it at the end of mails, conversations, casual and formal. Truth is, if it were to be used in its correct sense, it would need to mean the exact opposite of what is intended. To revert is to go back to its former state. So, when you ask your team member to do something and then revert, you are basically asking the person to do what you said, and then to go back and undo it so it goes right back to its original state. This word needs to primarily exist in science-fiction. Try using the word ‘reply’ or ‘respond’ – it can’t really be that difficult. Also, the word you are looking for does not have ‘back’ in it. No ‘reply back’, for crying out loud.

And then there is the word ‘only’. I think most use it as a direct translation of ‘kintu’ or ‘parantu’ (I know only Hindi/Bengali). “What to do, I am like that only” has almost become a parody of the wannabe Indian socialite. It is a wonderful quirk of mistranslation, and so many people use it so often I fear it will go down in the annals of history as India’s contribution to the language. For instance, ‘today only’ makes no sense unless one is talking of a deal that is closing the same day, and even then one should use ‘only today’. But the way many Indians use the word is to mean ‘today itself’. So say that, for god’s sake! Elsewhere too, the unnecessary usage of ‘only’ at the end of sentences is almost like a contagion. Read this:

X- Did you finish all your English homework?

Y- Fat chance, I didn’t do the essay only, how can I finish the entire homework?

The word only here is used to emphasize the pathetic and utter inability of even doing something that should be a prerequisite of what X asked. Given this, how can you discard ‘only’ and still manage to convey the same desperate condition? Here’s how:

X- Did you finish all your English homework?

Y- Fat chance, I couldn’t finish the essay, let alone the whole homework.

The other very common usage these days is of ‘good’. So you ask anyone who knows a smattering of English and is less than 60 years old how he/she is, chances are you will be told, “I am good”. I am good at what, pray? “I am good” should only and always be used to describe how proficient one is at something, – ‘I am good at playing the piano/saxophone’ etc. The right answer is ‘I am fine’ or ‘I am doing well’.

And now to the ridiculous. Most Indians talk of passing out, when they speak of graduating. Passing out, however, actually means fainting, similar to what would happen to me if George Clooney were to ask to marry me instead of that ridiculously attractive barrister. It can also happen if you are punch drunk – and hold on a second, the connection between graduating and intoxication might not be that far- fetched after all. But you just graduate and do not pass out. Unless any of the above happens.

When we talk of things that happened in the past, we should actually say, ‘it happened years ago’. ‘Years back’ is not right English. And somewhere in that past, you should not have ‘ordered for’ a pasta salad in Italy, but just ‘ordered’ it. And while eating the said pasta salad, you were not ‘discussing about’ the very handsome Italian men with your disinterested husband, but (merely) ‘discussing’. Because the meaning of discuss is ‘to talk about’, so if you discussed about something, the Italian men in this case, you would be talking about about them. Wrong, right? God knows when we started putting random prepositions after verbs.

And when, for instance, did our city/town/village get reduced to a ‘station’? You keep hearing how someone is out of station. Station, the best I know, are places where buses, trains etc stop so you can disembark or embark. But we hardly ever live there, – unless you count the multitudes who actually do live in our rail stations, so why can we not just say ‘out of town’ or ‘not here’? This is not a modern fad, I have heard generations of Indians use this term.

And then there is this whole way we Indians use the word ‘having’. ‘He is having a house in Mumbai’ is completely wrong. He ‘has’ a house in Mumbai, why can we not just gracefully accept that? The present continuous here makes no sense. Having lunch or dinner is OK, but you cannot be ‘having’ a house, honestly.

Have you read the above blog completely and agree with me? Yes?

Gotcha! You should not ‘read the above blog’, but ‘read the blog above’. Similarly with below (refer to first sentence)


21 thoughts on “What to do, we are like that only – Indians and our English.

  1. Trudge on for the perfect world O’ peeved puritanical! Fantastic and perceptive take on the slip ups many of us make, a kind of literary avataar of the bending of the mores of other aspects of human behaviour that we witness everyday. Ultimately one would have to learn to just shrug off the assault on not only the sensibilities of the very few who get under the skin of the language, but also our sense of perfection, and move on , mentally repeating to oneself- we are like that only. There is an element of the macabre in the way linguistic agility , which would have been the hallmark of masters, being bandied by wannabe charlatans who do not know the basics.

  2. Great piece of writing!!
    I am taking rest now so will post a longer comment afterwards…please to bear with me. 😉

  3. I enjoyed like anything !! In fact , MTV used used the tagline – “We are like this only ‘ to successfully appeal to GenNext when they launched their channel in India and that probably made it fashionable and trendy to take liberties with the language .

  4. Incredible way of putting things across! As a teacher I have often come across this annoying way of introduction..”Good Morning! Today I am XYZ…” I used to ask my students, “Were you someone else yesterday?” And then this horribly disgusting usage of the conjunction “SO” … I fail to understand why should each sentence begin with SO?Even people in respectable positions drag along this word while addressing the public!!!

  5. Lali, a perceptive piece – like you I am a bit of a nit picker when it comes to usage, but I’m also never less than hugely impressed by my colleagues’ engagement in what is often very complex dialogue in a language that’s not their Mother Tongue, and their great tolerance of my own idiosyncratic, often idiomatic use and abuse of the English language!
    Of course here in Blighty we have a long track record of grabbing and corrupting bits of other languages 🙂
    You did miss my favourite bit of Minglish though … EFFORT is already plural, EFFORTS is not a word, more like a splotch on your powerpoint.
    I’ll have to have a cup of char now to calm down

  6. Lali, I cringe even more when our hip associates start using american slang, after a few years; to show that they have completely assimmilated, into the culture here. It is a constant battle to show them their erroneous ways; as discerning team members smile at their faux paux, and they take it as an encouragement and a ringing endorsement of their new values. Then they compound the grammatical mistakes with an aquired accent; that shows a basic misunderstanding of the language. These flawed communication skills, provide entertainment for others, and demean the technical competency of the individual.

    1. Yes, Rajiv, that I think is the major problem – because despite the rolling rrrs and incompletely acquired accent, they make grammatical mistakes, because While people will everywhere quite happily accept that you cannot know completely correct English, it confuses them when the accent is completely American/British, and yet the English is all wrong.

  7. : any idea where kerberos ( /usr/krb5/bin:/usr/kerberos/bin ) in new server
    : /usr/lib/mit
    : I have it in my path already
    : seeing if something else is missing

    Texts and IMs are the worst part where you don’t even use English. “I L U” that’s a complete sentence, right?

  8. NIce article on the common mistakes made in written or verbal English, But rest assured you will find mistakes being made also by other people apart from Indians,.even by British people themselves. Nevertheless your article stimulates to be keen on writing correct english so hope I didn’t make one in this post 🙂

    1. Oh yes, the British make mistakes too, and in fact when I lived in UK, I used to be the one teaching my office mates English, and they kept coming back to me for reference. I just pointed out the major mistakes made by the Indians. I shall follow up with an article soon with others too. And no, your comment was completely faultless 🙂

  9. I’m not Indian (I’m not English either actually – I’m Welsh) but I loved this article. I too intensely dislike bad use of grammar. And English people can be just as guilty. My main bug-bear at the moment tends to come from more youthful English speakers – and when you say something like ‘I saw a book I think you’d like’ the answer given is ‘Is it?’.

    It drives me up the wall!

    1. Thanks Fiona for your comment. Oh yes, that is the boon thrust on us by globalization – even the wrongs are being brought to the fore and used. I see it all the time – native, English speaking Americans making the same syntactical errors as anyone else. This bodes ill for people as snooty as I am but well 🙂

  10. The side effect of unusual word usage is that it makes one aware of the strictures of “normal” grammatical usage. I like it, actually. Many accepted structures are entirely arbitrary. Grammar in English historically has been used as a demarcation of class, like the use of “ain’t” vs “isn’t.” When I’m feeling frisky, I provoke my wife by using “ain’t,” which is one of her hobby horses.

    I myself dislike dangling prepositions, of which there are far too many. 😉

  11. Thanks Lali for writing this nice article on the common mistakes made by Indians while writing or speaking in English, I just shared this article to my offshore and onsite team. I am also from India and when I discuss this topic within a group of logical people, I always say that in India we have many languages and we surely have one Mother tongue / language (which works as a COMPILER by our Mind when it comes to Translating in English) . But you are correct since we interact with clients and colleagues across globe, we should be Cognizant enough and your article surely helped me to be more Cognizant now onwards.I hope I didn’t make any mistake in this post

    1. Thanks for your comments.And no, you did not make any mistakes and I am sure you don’t either. But communication is so important in these days of interactions with foreign cultures. And making mistakes could come at a heavy price.

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