Saturday, August 11, 2007

Wart itchy sigh?

I’ve been running an experiment on my inner pedant by deliberately leaving out capitals and some punctuation in emails, mobile phone text messages, and instant messages sent over the net, in an effort to see if I can keep up with the changing times, and perhaps even learn to like them.

I still can’t bring myself to write ‘ur’ or ‘gr8’, but I have mastered the art of not bothering to capitalise the first letter of a sentence or of pronouns, and that’s a big deal for a traditionalist.

It speeds up one’s writing time, I find, and should therefore theoretically strain the wrists less; but increased efficiency (where efficiency is defined as achieving the same quality in less time, not necessarily achieving better quality) only creates time and space to do more of the same, and as a result I now have callouses at the base of my wrists where they rest at the foot of the keyboard.

Conclusion: I can only be a teeny tiny bit trendy, but too little to count, and I don’t really enjoy it.

Nevertheless, people who like language enough to be pedantic about it mostly do like to play with it, unless they’re really terminally humourless. These playful sorts will enjoy Howard L. Chace’s Anguish Languish, which was originally published by Prentice-Hall in 1956 and made famous on Sir Arthur Godfrey's radio show.

Chace invented a form of tongue-in-cheek writing meant for reading, based on the concept that since so many words in English sound surprisingly like other completely different words, you could just substitute one for the other, and, as long as you were listening, rather than looking, for meaning, you’d get it. Chace was trying to demonstrate to his students the importance of inflection in speech. It’s meant to be listened to; and the person reading it aloud, focusing on speaking each word rather than on the sounds they make when they flow together, may not understand a word.

Anguish Languish (English Language) included some traditional 'Furry Tells', such as ‘Ladle Rat Rotten Hut’ and ‘Guilty Looks Enter Tree Beers’. The opening couple of sentences from the former goes as follows:

“Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage, honor itch offer lodge, dock, florist. Disk ladle gull orphan worry putty ladle rat cluck wetter ladle rat hut, and fur disk raisin pimple colder Ladle Rat Rotten Hut.”

Chace founded the tongue-in-cheek Society for the Promotion of Anguish Languish (SPAL), and if you haven’t heard of it, you probe bleeding gnaw bother raisin attic zests (probably didn’t know about the reason it exists). Besides the sheer joy of making up these sentences, Anguish Languish gives you, as Chace pointed out, a wonderfully intriguing accent, as if you’ve juice rattan frame fur imparts (just returned from foreign parts). And of course, the juxtaposition of insanely inappropriate words is a barrel of laughs. The chilling bits of the story cause one to fall about in spasms of laughter, whether it’s the ‘lodge, dock, florist’, or Little Red Riding Hood’s exclamation to the wolf: “A nervous sausage bag ice!”

Party derision tutu desist daddy mikes raiders stirrup in pee tension, wander in gifter riders gumbo cirque (part of the reason to do this is that it makes readers sit up and pay attention, wondering if the writer’s gone berserk).

It’s an interesting experiment in how the brain processes language. Another is that, as a widely-circulated text on the internet explained, “Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae.”

But that’s just way, way less fun.


Rahul Sengupta said...

Was going through your column in BusinessStandard this saturday.
Well I am a young guy but still I haven't been able to make myself comfortable with the 'SMS' language. I still write those full lengthy words in my mails or while I am on YM!!
Cmarbidge may say what tehy are syanig but its dfifclut to raed taht way!!!!

Tkae Crae :)

Rajesh said...

Anther says yu don't nd vwls t b ndrstd.

Damn. Did I go wrong somewhere?

nolongercustomer said...

Mitali, I am celebrating Thanksgiving with The Ellisons, (at my parents in Boston). How are you? Vicki and I were talking about you so I wanted to see where you are..