Speaking of Which | I Mean To Say

08 Feb,2013

By Vidya Heble


Speaking of Which regulars may know that the Hindustan Times is my daily of choice. It’s not perfect but it’s good. Among the high points associated with it is the Sunday edition – one, for Ashish Shakya’s side-splitting column, and two, for Brunch.


Brunch is in demand in my building; because of some foul-up with coupons, HT doesn’t come to the other family residence, which is in the same building as mine. They read other newspapers but HT Brunch gets shared between me and my nephew. Update: The coupon problem was solved, probably even as this was being posted, and HT arrives at the door of the other family house again.


One reading quirk I have is that of starting magazines from the back page and reading them backwards, as it were. Apparently it’s not uncommon, and it may be a sign of a gifted person. Some would say “special”, but I digress. The fact is that the back of the magazine has the interesting little tasty bits, like the last page with fun stuff on it, etc. It just progresses from there.


The Brunch of February 3 similarly ended up being opened from the back page, after I had looked at the front cover and then the back cover. This issue is the Readers’ Special with contributions by, well, readers. Readers aren’t writers (though I have to say some writers aren’t writers either), so I wouldn’t expect them to know the ins and outs of, um, writing. But the staff of the publication should. Nay, must. That’s what they get paid for, innit?


So I read about this lawyer who ponders why people love books. The intro to his piece said, “Don’t scorn at those who read Twilight just because you’ve read Ulysses.” After I had retrieved my mind from the edges of space to which it had retreated, trying to assimilate Twilight and Ulysses in the same breath, I wondered whether I should write to Brunch. Because, as I expect and hope many of you will have noted, one does not say “scorn at”. One says “scorned”, or “heaped scorn upon”. Or “scoffed at”, which I am guessing is what was meant here, going by the general tone and content of the piece. Want a tip to remember it? “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” No “at”.


Still, I thought I’d give it a rest, stop being a whiner and move on, and I turned the page. There was a media professional talking about how he had to perforce go on holidays with his parents when he was growing up. “Holidaying with parents has hardly ever been an option,” said the intro (and the copy said it too, varying the tense). When I first read the intro I thought this was a guy yearning to go on holidays with his parents and not being able to. Which is what it means, in the form it is in. But what the story says is that holidaying with his parents was not optional. This is the phrase to use when you mean that it is compulsory and there is no opting out. (Any of you remember those “optional” papers back in college?)


Two of those in a row couldn’t be ignored. Here are people, educated and articulate, who are read by lots of other people who will then take these people’s words as given… This, this is why there is an onus of responsibility on publications to get it right, from facts to usage. Because people emulate, and imitate, and copy-paste. Because this is how mistakes get perpetuated.


Fine, the sky won’t fall if a word is misused or a meaning is unclear. But letting something slide when you know it is wrong – that’s the first step to bypassing all rules. Even the ones you like. That way leads to anarchy.


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One response to “Speaking of Which | I Mean To Say”

  1. falana dhikna says:

    Enjoy reading your column. ‘Lay’ v. “lie’ please!