There’s this guy I know, Amol, a very good friend of mine (well, at least I think so), who’s really good at English. Better than I could ever be. He finds it very natural to use his vocabulary in day-to-day conversations, and he knows something about origin of words and how perfectly can poetic words be embedded in a routine conversation without making it sound flowery. We all laugh and try to piss him off whenever this happens, and he just smiles. Well, the other day, it was different.
It so happened that he and I were in the canteen, sipping over coffee and talking away when he again used a rather unusual word in a mundane conversation. I laughed, habitually, of course. But didn’t get to see that knowing smile on him that he always has when someone makes fun of his language. so I ventured to ask him the reason. He replied quite simplistically, ” You see, it always amuses me why someone, who doesn’t have the inclination to practice good usage of a language, should be contented in making fun of someone who does? ” I got a feeling this was a leading question. I said, ” Well, we all find it funny when you use so many out of the ordinary words in a routine conversation, when you can simply use simple words and keep it routine.”
A hint of a smile appeared on his face and he asked, ” define routine, ordinary? how do you classify words and communication as routine and ordinary?” and I replied, “Well you know, it’s not like we aren’t aware of these words, it’s just that we choose not to use them because it looks like we’ve taken them straight out of a classic novel or something.””Ah! you see, therein lies the problem. We refer to the Internet for every bit of information we need. Some of us use it shamelessly without any due credits to the source or author, and yet we are at peace using it. But when it comes to knowledge of words, when it comes to using language effectively, we suddenly become apprehensive and unsure about ourselves. Why is that so?
Let me ask you, what is the purpose of communication? Why do we learn a language and take pains to read literature written in it, to listen to great speakers talk and speak it? Communication serves two purposes for me :
It is a vehicle for distributing information. And in information, lies knowledge. Even when we are talking about abstract things and concepts, we are informing others about how we feel, what are our perspectives and our attitudes towards something. When it comes to teaching or preaching, we are empowering others with information so that they can do something worthwhile with it. It also helps us refine our perspectives, become more convinced and convincing, and occasionally, develop and learn insights that can improve our perspectives.
The second important use of communicating is that it helps us improve our understanding of the language that we communicate in. As we communicate more, our hold on the language increases. We are then better able to use it very effectively and not waste space, time and effort trying to pen down or speak out what we feel. And what can be better than communicating what you want to communicate in the minimum number of words possible? You see, just knowing the dictionary is not sufficient, you must also know the appropriate places where you can embed those words and make your sentence powerful. You have seen ‘Dead Poets Society’ haven’t you? Doesn’t Robin William teach his students how to make their language more than ordinary? Well, I practice what he has preached while you just applaud the movie. And how can you forget that scene when he tells one of the students who has just read out a 3 words poetry, ” ‘ It doesn’t matter if poetry is small or big. Just don’t let it be ordinary.’ “
As I prepared myself to surrender, he got up and started leaving, indicating that this wasn’t just an argument he had made to prove a point. I began to understand that it was a perspective, a philosophy for him. Something which he held very close to his heart and must have been disappointed when someone made fun of it without attempting to understand it. He took a few steps, stopped, turned and said, ” You know, I believe its arrogance and ignorance what makes us ridicule what we cannot fathom.”
With which parthian shot he left me, making me look so small and humbled.
I went to his room afterwards to take help on my resume.