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Taro's Travels

Language and Culture

NEPAL | Wednesday, 15 November 2006 | Views [2598] | Comments [1]

One advantage of trekking with my guide Shyam was that I could pick up a little - and I do mean a little - Nepali while on trail, thus putting my 8 year Linguistics degree to some minor use (well, we also had a brief Tibetan lesson in Lhasa, but it was brief). I'm a language dilettante, unfortunately. In formal study I've a year of High School Latin, two years of HS French, two years of HS Japanese, a year of Uni Spanish, plus a semester of analysis of Buginese. Just enough to be incompetent in all, and have them all blend into a near-useless mental melange. Fortunately I still have a tenuous grasp on English, the Lingua Franca of our modern world.

English has a lot of words; it was well over half a million at last count (not by me, thankfully) with all its inflections ["I wug, you wugged, she wugs, they are wugging"], derivational morphemes ["un-" + "wug" + "-able" => "unwuggable"], and imports from other languages. One of my two favourite words - purely for euphony - is the loan word schadenfreude, the meaning of which happens to be lovely in its unloveliness too. And English is fluid in its semantics when members of a group or subculture develop their own shared meaning for common words - witness the evolution of different words for "good": "swell", "funky", "bad", "wicked", "cool", "hot" etc.

So it was that "whatever" in our group came to mean "twelvish". We'd twelve passengers plus a group leader, and at times a local guide and one or more driver, so when Brett would checks that we were all present, the count would end up as something like "One... Two... Three... Whatever". In Intrepid Tour Leader parlance a "passenger" ("pax" for short) is a member of a tour. In some cases, terms were old but some passengers weren't aware of them - "FIGJAM" and "dag", for instance. "Dag", by the way, is one of twenty Australian terms to be added to the MSWord dictionary in the next update - it's really that important to Australian culture! I was surprised, though, that "bonza" and "ridgy-didge" - a favourite saying of X.'s along with "stone the crows" and "Rafferty's rules" - were so popular. I thought "bonza"/"bonzer" died out half a century back.

A couple of months ago my mum sent an email, the body of which was "One thing I noticed - you use -----------ish a lot". I responded "Yup. It's because I like to be precisish when I write. [I also like paradox!]. -ish forms provide a nice level of nuance with less syllables than 'approximately' or 'roughly'. Partially it's because a lot of my writing (as I've written to you before) is conversational in style, and I use -ish forms in speech". I'm very pleased to report that -ish words were frequently used on tour by myself and others.

It's one of the perils of travelling that you do see x hundred monuments, y thousand museums, and z million religious buildings. I've written in previous entries that I've been "templed out". Our last major monastery in Tibet was at Sakya but when we arrived it was closed for the lunch period, and to enter the buildings we would have had to have waited a few hours. "Are you all monasteried out?", inquired Brett. We were. We so were. So instead we wandered the grounds, and had an enjoyable time doing so; Sakya remains one of my favourite monasteries. I should add that I get un-templed out every time I go to a new region and the style of temple changes. I also expect to get throughly churched-out, castled-out, and galleried-out in Europe, but that's not such a bad thing.

"According to Chambers Dictionary (2003), which is the primary reference, only nine of the answers to the clues are real words defined as in their clues. The rest have been arrived at by false scholaritude, whimse, hyperfeminism, poeticisation, up-to-dating, incorrect retroformation, etceterums." - Preamble to Listener Crossword 3889, "Neologification", by 'Waterloo']

There were coined terms too, including "fauxriginal" and "passiongers". We've seen a lot of fauxriginal items for sale at markets and stalls. Nepal is home to nearly as many counterfeit books as Vietnam, watches guaranteed to fall apart are readily available, and knock-offs of The North Face trekking gear, collectively known as "The North Fake" fill the trekking shops. Passengers who hooked up were, logically, "passiongers".

While vaguely on the subject, the dating section of the Lonely Planet Mandarin phrasebook was educational. Apparently "Never mind, I'll do it myself" is a suitably handy phrase to know, and itinerant banjo players in search of a good time may find success with "You look like my cousin". Pride is a deadly sin and all, but I'm very fond of the fact that when one of my fellow passengers said to another "I'll always think of you as the sister I never had", I could but add "I'll always think of you as the cousin I never... had".

Sometimes a coined term is just so right that its meaning is evident the moment you hear it. May I present for your amusement "packwash". If you don't find its meaning so evident, you may have always had regular access to a washing machine. Packwashing is when you store dirty clothes long enough for them to become cleanish enough to be reworn.

"Remember you can wear your underwear 4 times without washing: forwards, backwards, inside out forwards, inside out backwards." -- "Not the Sunscreen Song", by John Safran

But what I ask is "Is there any need for neologification when English already has such a rich and untapped vocabulary?". There are roughly a hundred and ninety thousand words in the UK Advanced Cryptic Dictionary wordlist - perhaps under forty thousand once inflections, plurals, proper nouns, and phrases are omitted. When you've ten thousand pages of bad writing to complete, that's not so many new words per page. A doable task, then; a kind of large-scale long-term game of Bingo. If I really need to, my last page of bad writing may well cover my visit to Dublin and homage James Joyce. It will be by far the least readable thing either of us have written. Once upon a time,so it's said, James Joyce was sitting disconsolate in his study when a friend dropped by. "I've only written seven words today", Joyce told him. "But James", reassured his friend, "Seven words is a good day for you". "Yes," wailed Joyce, "But I don't know which order they go in". But I digress.

Is there really a need for neologification when current English is flexible enough to make any number of groanworthy but topical puns?

X: I Say I Say I Say. Why is Little Miss Muffet like Saddam Hussein?
Y: Both their surnames have a U as the second letter, an E as the fifth letter, and a double on the second and third letters.
(*crickets chirp and a tumbleweed blows across the stage*)
X: There was a pun in that?
Y: Er... they both tried to tuffet alone?
(*silence as the drummer attempts to rimshot and misses*)
X: Interesting exploration on how elastic the lower boundaries of wit are, but have another crack at it.
Y: Er... They both had curds in their whey?
(*rimshot muffled by the gentle splatter of tinned tomatoes hitting bone*)
X: Thank you. Thank you. I'll be here all week, and unless the cleaners work overtime so will Y.

When coming down from Everest Base Camp, I was surprised to find that yoghurt tasted absolutely disgusting to me. Twice I ordered it, and twice I was unable to eat it. It was purely a personal reaction, though, as others tried it and had no problem with it. I don't know why it happened. In Nepal, yoghurt in Nepal is often called "curd", but since it's a rather solid yoghurt, the name is accurate enough. Tibetan yoghurt was similar, though generally more yakky in flavour. Yoghurt in a lot of other countries has mainly been of the drinking variety. I don't quite understand how you can have Acidophilus in yoghurt that's been treated so that its bottles are stored at room temperature, but I'm still alive. Drinking yoghurt is now fresher as lassis, common enough in Tibet, are even more common in Nepal with its heavy Indian influence.

While in Lhasa we visited the Braille without Borders School, which is targetted at teaching and training the young so that they can live and work independently, which is something that Tibetan blind generally weren't able to before the arrival of the organisation since Tibet's Buddhist society saw the blind as having warranted it as a result of actions in past lives. There are a lot of older sightless as well (due to both heredity and as a result of eye disease) who don't attend the school in Lhasa. For them, the organisation has a farm near Shigatse, where (among other things) cheese is produced. This is real cheese, too, not the Chinese processed plastic or yak-chalk normally seen in Tibet. They've a foreign expert in to assist with the cheesemaking, and there was talk of mozzarella being produced - whether from yak-stock, or whether from buffalo or beefalo (which are common in Nepal but not Tibet) I don't know. It's not like yak milk can't be made into good cheese as it's available in Nepal.

By-the-by, have you ever noticed that the blind dress much better than I do? If so, then you're not one of those sartorially-snappy unsighted people. But I micallef.

micallef (verb): to pursue a question, usually rhetorical, to its logically hideous conclusion.

Thank you. I'll be here all year.

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Hey Taro, I really enjoy reading your postings, and miss them when you are away from a computer for a while.
I have news....Nick and I got engaged! We went to Vanuatu for my birthday and he "popped the question". Keep having fun.

  Sian Nov 22, 2006 8:28 AM

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