Mind your language | By Sirajuddin Aziz

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Mind your language


FROM the popular BBC programme, I have borrowed the title to this piece. In the sitcom, Mr Brown teaches foreigners the English language. No such attempt of teaching the language is intended here.

This article invites attention to the words chosen from a language. Good spoken language is the pedigree of nations.

The run up to the election in Azad Kashmir has brought to fore the despicable choice our politicians preferred over gentler words. Decency was placed in a casket and buried in the cemetery of forgotten values.

The mud-slinging, the accusations galore, the timidity of purpose and the over-arching feelings of not being the best, got more recognition.

Homer in Illiad says, “The tongue of a man is a twisty thing, there are plenty of words there, of every kind, the range of words is wide and their variance.”

In the last decade or so, there has been a progressive decline in the quality of political speeches, which in the least must be recognised for condemnation. Every speaker plays to the gallery that appreciates the base elements.

What legacy, these politicians wish to leave behind? After Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, there is not a single leader, who said anything profound or quotable.

There is a Chinese proverb that reads, slander cannot make a good man bad; when the water recedes the stone is still there.

For the victory of an opinion, it does not behove well, for any type of a speaker, particularly the politician, to indulge and wound like an unchained hound, the possessor of an opposite view.

It is not to suggest that corruption shouldn’t be called out for identification to the masses, but it must be done decently.

There is no last word in anything in life, more so in politics; hence the dire need for exercising great care, caution and discretion, while addressing the populace.

Most speakers, particularly the daughter of former prime minister conveniently forgets that those who fling dirth at others, dirtieth themselves the most. The tale never runs the way a teller pleases.

The abject surrender to base and elementary instincts, when at the podium, is a sure shot recipe of conveying self inflicted, but obscure insecurities of fear and loss.

Birds are entangled by their feet and men by their tongues. Those who speak lavishly shall get to hear knavishly. If there is no economy in speech, the likelihood of use of less than decent language is probable.

Slang in English is indecent, and when slangs are expressed in Urdu, they sound even more disgraceful and vulgar.

The NYT, in 1959 had carried a piece of Carl Sandburg, that said,” Slang is the language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work.”

Boos and catcalls must remain in the confines of decency. Speech of a lady or the gentleman completes her/his education.

Admittedly, verbal warfare is driven by human instinct, but it must be tempered by good values, upbringing, education, company and above all through the medium of reading voraciously.

Those who get catapulted into leadership position, without having to go through the mill, but become so, as part of political inheritance are most likely to be bereft of the a to b of politics.

To cover up this inadequacy, they resort to language of the street — in fact, some excel in putting the street to shame!! When a person speaks, he/she is all about being representative of the family, the schooling and the alma mater. Wonder, why British or Pakistan’s universities be put to unnecessary embarrassment.

If family’s reputation is unimportant, at least the place where raw individuals are fashioned into ladies and gentlemen, should be spared.

Nobody has dared to harness and train, the cannon spitting firebrand daughter of the former Prime Minister. She rants. A bleating sheep loses the bit. Recently, in her usual uncontrollable speech, she merrily walked into the arena of “hate speech” by unnecessarily commenting on the (in my view excellent) upbringing of IK’s children, by his ex-wife, Jemima.

Most uncalled-for. Words, selected in any conversation or speech, are meant to provide softness to ideas, beliefs and philosophies; they are intended to provoke refinement and even be a veil to the most glaring and outrageous thought. Crass language for coarse and bovine thoughts is not a socially acceptable equation.

—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Karachi.

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