Speaking of Which | A little less shame, perhaps?

21 Dec,2012

By Vidya Heble


This time we focus on the wrong use of a word – not incorrect but not quite what is intended to be meant. Chief among them is ‘shameless’, a word that I’ve noticed people using increasingly often. Shameless seems to be the default replacement word to mean anything from frank to brazen.


The murderous assault in Delhi of a young woman and her companion left me drained of the will to be pedantic about word usage in the face of such far more vital issues, but duty does call.


Shameless is a strong word and has a negative connotation. We usually don’t intend to imply this negative meaning when we use the word, so why don’t we take a few moments and look for words that actually mean what we intend? For instance, I unashamedly confess to being a fan of John Abraham. I might even be uninhibited when jumping with joy at the prospect of meeting him. But in neither case would I be shameless. You shouldn’t, either.


Another word I’ve come across, mainly in word-portraits about some personality or the other, is ‘humble’. I can understand humble beginnings such as a handcart pusher going on to become a big businessman. But his personality remains, not humble but modest. In the Indian context modesty is practically synonymous with personal space, the invasion of which amounts to ‘outraging of modesty’. But modesty is also a character attribute, and it means something different from humility (and that is a word related to ‘humble’, in case you wondered).


The big question: How do you know which word to use? How do you know there are these other words that express what you want to say? The only way to find out is to read, read, read. Not text messages but books.


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