The 'Fractured' English!

February 1, 2016

English, as we know is the most used language in the world and undoubtedly the most popular across the globe. It is a language that cuts across boundaries and racial divide. Conversing in English also gives a sense of dignity to the speaker. Just like any other language, a spelling or grammatical error may twist the whole meaning and give a new dimension to the sentence itself. Our recent holidays took us overseas to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and to the three Indian States of Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and our own Karnataka besides the national capital territory of Delhi. Here, I have compiled a few instances of distorted English that I came across during this visit.

Probably, the place Velankanni which is revered by all faiths as the 'Lourdes of the East' is one of the most misspelt words when it comes to names of places. I have seen varied spellings and pronunciations of this proper noun in innumerable places all over India and abroad. But, this one VEILANKANNI in the town itself is the bouncer of all sorts because it starts with the unpleasant prefix, so to say - VEIL.

The correct spelling is VELANKANNI, officially spelled as VAILANKANNI, also spelled as VELANGANNI (due to Tamil to English translation). Any of these three spellings is considered right and all the rest are misspelt either due to ignorance or more so due to the fact the jumbled-up-alphabets in the four-syllable name are confusing in itself. The spelling pictured above VEILANKANNI gives a slanted meaning - as being a Pilgrimage Centre, everything over there is so open. In fact, it would not be wrong to say it has lifted the VEIL as pilgrims flock from all over India and abroad, about 20 million of them, crying for mercy.

I discovered at least half a dozen different spellings in the panchayat town itself that lies about 350 km south of Chennai. This calls for some remedial action.

This Navy Blue Board of white letters and a white border with Kannada on top and the English translation underneath has been projected well. However, the translation in English has taken a beating with the use of the coordinating conjunction 'FOR' instead of the preposition 'OF' giving a bit of twist and a different meaning to the English sentence. This was not the authorities intended to convey for sure. It should have read: “TAKE CARE OF YOUR CHILDREN.”

The Board sits right at the entrance to the lake at the Boating Centre in Pilikula Nisarga Dhama in our own Mangaluru. I am given to understand the 'Warning Board' has been one of the measures that was put in place by the concerned authorities after the boat tragedy in January 2000 whereby five teenaged girls of St Ann's High School, Mangaluru had lost their lives.

Velankanni is made up of cluster of Churches. It is mandatory that you remove your footwear before you enter the sacred place as a mark of respect. Outside one of the Churches, the above sign was posted.

I have yet to come across a word called 'Footware' in English. All I know is 'ware' is associated with some kind or class of merchandise or of manufactured article like silverware, glassware, pottery and the like. I wish my shoes were made up of one of those things so that I could happily place it under the sign board. Whether such a thing bears the weight of my body is another question altogether. Unfortunately, my feet had a pair of casual shoes made out of natural rubber, some reflective material and cloth which would not crack or break. Going strictly by the English sign, these are exempted as they do not fall under any 'Ware.' It was interesting to see that there were no footwear placed under the sign, though the Church appeared to be full as singing was in full flow. They all had probably obeyed the English sign and had them on.

On our final leg of our holidays, travelling to Bengaluru from Mangaluru on our return journey, we covered this distance by road. We booked the front seats of the Volvo bus and there was this sign that we had to stare throughout, right behind the driver's seat.

Here, the Kannada version is perfectly fine though there could have been a deerga after Neeve to denote emphasis. However, the English translation has taken a toll. The correct translation from Kannada to English could have been – YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR LUGGARE or YOUR LUGGAGE IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY though there is nothing wrong in the given English sentence standing independently.

When it came to translation, I am reminded of a Psychological Survey that I read somewhere where men and women were asked to translate thesentence 'I love you too,' from English to Hindi - where many women translated as “Main bhi tumse pyar karti hoon” and many men translated as “Main tumse bhi pyar karta hoon.” At least men are always sincere especially when it comes to translation.

During our outing by road criss-crossing Tamil Nadu, we spotted this bus in front of us somewhere in Thanjavur with the sentence: DON'T DRANK AND DRIVE STAY ALIVE on the back of it. You only decide what tense has gone wrong and the missing punctuation. The driver of the bus himself was veering from one corner of the road to another and we were left wondering whether he was actually on high.

The WC (Water Closet), Rest Room, Lavatory, Latrine, Toilet and the most popular of them all 'Loo' (among more than 100 names it can be addressed) is the one we often visit to answer nature's call 24x7.

Just fresh from a visit to the Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi, UAE including its plush toilet which was free, I was aghast to find this stinking toilet that actually mentionedthat itwas for free. Yes! For free… absolutely no charges to pee! However, as I entered a guy who was sitting on the chair at the mouth of this toilet slowly stood up and appeared to be stretching both his hands towards me as if to indicate he needs some currency notes.

My contention is if it is free, the board should just say TOILETS as it is understood that they are for free and if a payment has to be made to 'pee' or whatever, then and then only the term PAID TOILETS need to be used.

During my vacation, I had the good fortune of attending the annual SACAA (St Aloysius College Alumni Association) Meet on the 12th of January. Did meet a lot of friends of yesteryears and caught up with my classmates, many of whom I failed to recognise and vice versa. While the Meet was in progress in the High School Grounds on that humid evening, the large white capital letters against a board of navy blue backgroundon the nearby 'Red building' caught my attention – ALOYSEUM MUSEUM, ST ALOYSIUS COLLEGE.

With due respect to my Alma Mater – I would reckon it would suffice the word ALOYSEUM was all that was needed that described the other two lines as well. Aloysius plus Museum = Aloyseum is a wonderful inclusive acronym and the waffle is unnecessary. The building is also housed within the broader College Premises. It is akin to saying 'Priya returned back to her home town after completing her Masters in St Aloysius College' wherein 'returned' and 'back' are the repetition of words with the same meaning. I might be hearing some voices at the background justifying that 'so much detail is needed' for an outside visitor. Even then, somehow it does not sound right. In any case, the building is marked for demolition to make way for the iconic Jesuit Quarters with the Museum probably to be accommodated in a larger place.

During the academic year 1986-87, which was my final year in College, the Institution made waves with the first batch of female students introduced in PUC and Degree classes. However, in the same academic year our 'Aloysian Annual Magazine' went for a toss with the word 'Aloysius' itself misspelt with the insertion of an extra 'O' in the name of the patron Saint that readas ALOYSIOUS right from the cover page until the last. Being the 'Student Editor' of the Annual, I accept moral responsibility for the gaffe. In fact, the Magazine was never given to be proof read before it was released. It shows, Big Institutions do falter.

In Bengaluru's Commercial Street and Delhi's Chandni Chowk, the English spellings were taking a beating almost everywhere with translations that can be described as witty.

The following pictures from Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi respectively have disparity tale of their own. Figure it out:

I read this somewhere and have narrated it here as it makes a hilarious reading. I will leave you with 'How Pakistani professors speak English' albeit in a lighter vein:

- Don't dare talk in front of my back.
- Both of you three get out of the class.
- You are so late … say yes or no.
- Take 5 cm wire of any length.
- I have two daughters. Both of them are girls.
- All of you stand in a straight circle.
- Hang the calendar on the wall or I will hang myself.
- Why are you looking at the monkey outside the window when I am here?
- Quiet … The Principle just passed away.


Stephen P D'Souza Archives:


By Stephen P D'Souza, Melbourne, Australia
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Comment on this article

  • Stephen P. D'Souza, Kadri / Melbourne

    Mon, Feb 08 2016

    A couple of jokes were attributed to former Indian President Giani Zail Singh (7th President) who as the world knew was poor in English.

    It is well known Zail Singh was fond of roses, specially a red rose and used to have one pinned to his coat. Once, a group of children from an elite school visited the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Childrens’ Day and met the President. Zail Singh handed over a red rose to each child and when he approached a cute little girl, patted her cheek and while handing over the rose said ‘I love you.’ The girl instantly shot back saying ‘I love you too’. The President then shot back saying ‘I love you THREE.’ He got the ‘too’ mixed up for the ‘two.’

    Once the same President was in an Operation Theatre in a foreign country to undergo a medical procedure and when the Doctor asked him: Are you ready? (for the operation to commence), hearing this concluding the Doctor has mistaken him for his predecessor Neelam Sanjiva REDDY got up and reclining on the Operation table clarified: ‘I am not Reddy, I am Zail Singh.’

  • Donald Roche, Mangalore/Ruzai

    Mon, Feb 08 2016

    Last but not least, Mr. Rev Fr. so and so.. found many a times in a English news paper.!

  • Austin, Vamanjoor

    Sun, Feb 07 2016

    I give some more examples below:
    The bandage was wound around the wound.
    The farm was used to produce produce.
    The dump was so full it had to refuse more refuse.
    We must polish the Polish furniture.
    He could lead if he would get the lead out.
    The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
    Since there was no time like the present, he thought it was time to present thepresent.
    A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
    When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
    I did not object to the object.
    The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
    There was a row among the oarsmen on how to row.
    They were too close to the door to close it.
    The buck does funny things when does are present.
    A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
    To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
    The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
    After a number of injections my jaw got number.
    Upon seeing the tear in the painting, I shed a tear.
    I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
    How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
    He sure "got my goat" = "He sure made me angry"
    How come Europe with so many varying languages has only one script which is also a roman script with the exception of Greece. Whereas we Indians have hundreds of scripts and anyone knowing a particular script can pronounce identically which is not possible in English. No is No but Do is du, but is but, but put is poot (due to lack of alphabets in English I have to write “poot”)

  • Stephen P. D'Souza, Kadri / Melbourne

    Sat, Feb 06 2016

    Thank you Austin for your insight on the most USED language - English, the most SPOKEN being Chinese Mandarin followed by Spanish.

    ‘At present’ is not written as ‘presently’
    ‘You broadcast’ but you do not ‘broadcasted’
    You do not say, ‘accused with’
    ‘Air base’ is two words, ‘airspace’ is one
    ‘Aggravate’ is to worsen, not irritate
    It is always ‘different from’, not ‘different to’
    You ‘dispose of,’ not ‘dispose off’
    You do not have an investigation into, you just investigate
    And finally, for today, when do you use ‘licence’ and when do you use ‘license’?
    Over to you?

  • Austin, Vamanjoor

    Sat, Feb 06 2016

    Well researched article Stephen about the funny language called English which unfortunately has become an international language. The reason for English being funny is first of all there are not enough alphabets in English and secondly the alphabets like ‘W’ (dublu), Y, F, H, L, M, N, Q, R, S, X, Z, are not fit to be called alphabets as they consist of two or more syllables. These alphabets are pronounced in one way but when put together to form a word they are pronounced differently e.g. put, but, loose, lose, know, pneumatic, arch, monarch (in arch ‘ch’ is pronounced one way and in monarch ‘ch’ is pronounced another way. Whereas in Indian script alphabet consists of one syllable only and there are nearly 56 alphabets compared to 26 of English and this is why any word in Indian script can be pronounced identically by each and everyone. One can reproduce the sound of a fart even using the Indian alphabets. In an Indian script anyone who knows to read a particular script can pronounce the word identically but it is not so in English, which is actually a Roman Script. If an English learned Indian or anybody from any other country has not come across some words like Bouquet, Buffet, Plumber , knock, (pronounced – Plummer), will pronounce the words wrongly because of the nature of their alphabets. In English many words have different meanings like “Enough is enough”, “Like father like son” etc. Plural of box is boxes but plural of ox is oxen and not oxes.

  • Austin, Vamanjoor

    Sat, Feb 06 2016

    Dear KS, Kudla,

    The word stationary means motionless or at rest. And the other word with 'e' instead of 'a' i.e. stationery refers to stationery items like pen, pencil, books, files, stapulars, etc.

  • Stephen P. D'Souza, Kadri / Melbourne

    Fri, Feb 05 2016

    Thanks to Joseph F. Gonsalves, Tom Cat, Lydia Lobo, Donald, Geoffrey, Ks, Vibha, AA, R. Bhandarkar for your comments. It is interesting to note you all have had your own share of experiences with ‘fractured’ English.

    Vibha, you are right – the last word in Kannada in the fourth photograph is incorrect and in a way the second word in the same photograph has a ‘ga’ adi votthu which was not necessary.

    Continuing on the Pakistanis – While teaching TOEFL in Training Institute in Abu Dhabi, UAE, I had this Pakistani student in my class to whom I had requested to read a paragraph aloud under ‘Reading Comprehension’ so that the class could listen and interpret the multiple choice questions that followed. When it came to words with an apostrophe‘s’, to my surprise he addressed all of them as ‘post office s.’ When I corrected him, he disagreed … justifying that was the way he was taught in school.

  • R.Bhandarkar, Mangaluru

    Fri, Feb 05 2016

    On A Hotel Sign Board...Can you beat that?

  • AA, MNG

    Thu, Feb 04 2016

    Have anyone seen how it is written Mangalore international airport in Kannada?? instead of antharaashtriya.. they have written anthara raashtriya..

  • vibha, mangaluru

    Wed, Feb 03 2016

    even kannada " javaabdaarraru" is written wrongly

  • Ks, Kudla

    Wed, Feb 03 2016

    Not only this my friend, there are so many such instances like, we can see book shop signs - 'stationary' instead of stationery, we can see bills on the walls reads: 'bad space available only for ladies' when we go to Kerala, english has its own style. they pronunciate what they read. eg for 'budget' they say 'bud-jett': 'Earn - yearn' although we are not masters in english but for sure I can say we are better than mallus.

  • geoffrey, hat hill

    Tue, Feb 02 2016

    Most of these ‘fractures’ occur when non native speakers of English language do verbatim translation of phrases of other languages into English. Some of the phrases which are considered English by educated Indians for ages, aren’t English at all. For example there’s a phrase in this article ‘went for a toss’ which makes perfect sense to most of the Indians. But if it is used while conversing with a native speaker of English from west, he/she is likely to say ‘I beg your pardon?’

  • Donald, Mangalore one

    Tue, Feb 02 2016

    In future you may find sign board with slogan.."Use only I S I marked Helu met".

  • Lydia Lobo, Kadri

    Mon, Feb 01 2016

    If you read a signboard reading 'No Barking' what can you understand out of it ? That you are in a land of dogs who follow signs to know when/where to bark ?

    Well, this was written by a German Site Engineer and given to a painter to make. The painter hardly knew anything beyond ABCD, what will he understand a phrase ? In-fact, the Engineer wanted to prevent parking vehicles at a specific area.

  • tom Cat, Mangalore

    Mon, Feb 01 2016

    The other day i met CA from kerala at the coffee shop he asked me question which took me some to understand, and this is the question
    " how many doctors you have" instead of " how many daughters you have" . pigeon is pronounced as pigi-ion and this one i will not forget "bag was pronounced as baagh.

  • Joseph F. Gonsalves, Bannur, Puttur / Mangalore

    Mon, Feb 01 2016

    The writer is exactly right. I have also noticed few sign boards while passing from Mangalore to Bombay / Mumbai.

    I received one image in my WhatsApp and no idea this was manufactured or really existed.

    So and so restaurant. He has placed a board: Here 24X7 wife available.

    Instead of here 24X7 WIFI available. A small spelling error will make the meaning entirely different.


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