The superlative hybrid mutation in English

Published: 13th September 2012 12:47 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th September 2012 12:47 AM   |  A+A-

David Cameron, the British prime minister, was in the news recently for his ‘chillaxing’ — the ability to take time out from work to do things he enjoys. While most people are busy mocking him for his audacity to relax in such a high-pressured job, I found myself looking quixotically at this peculiar word. Apparently it’s a hybrid mutation of the words chilling and relaxing. In other words, it’s a superlative to relaxing. Changing times are fusing old words with a new twist that is often unintelligible. Like the day my son returned from a holiday and screamed, “We had a fantabulous trip!” I didn’t get it, till I discovered that ‘fantabulous’ was a combination of fantastic and marvellous. Apparently the English language, having run out of superlatives in a superlative age, is fusing words to reach higher reaches of comparison. Americans, never known for their regard for purity of language, brazenly employ double comparatives/superlatives, though grammatically it’s horrendous to say ‘more harder’, ‘more prettier’ or ‘most best’.

Often one is baffled and embarrassed by some of the expressions used in today’s conversations. On being introduced to a Roy I mumbled a polite: “How are you?” His reply was: “I’m good”. Not the customary: “I’m fine”. I wanted to tell him that in the matter of introductions, a ‘good’ response is a good climb-down from ‘fine’. Perhaps Roy wanted to convey that his health was really not all that good — I mean fine. I moved on to my next query on where he worked. “I work out of Chennai,” he said. “You mean, you work outside Chennai,” I tried to amplify. “No, not exactly,” he explained, “I work in Chennai when I’m not out on tour.” Come again? If he was in fact working in Chennai, why confuse me with a red herring like ‘out of Chennai’? Or was it I who was out of touch by not recognising that ‘out of’ now signifies ‘in’?

At a party, I overheard a reveller telling his friend, “Look at that chick, bro. Ain’t she cool?” The friend smirked, “Yeah, man, she’s really hot!” I was stumped. How could a girl be both cool and hot at the same time, assuming that one is able to gauge her ‘warmth’ in the first place? However, that’s English language — under constant ‘evolution’, though once in a while it loses its direction like when a girl is dubbed a ‘chick’.

A few days later I met a cheeky ‘chick’. She was on cloud nine after finding what she called her new love. “I love him so,” she gushed. “Oh, he’s so wicked!” I was shocked. A fair damsel openly boasting that she had fallen for someone wicked! Like the evil Iago or Uriah Heep or our very own Pran (before he turned over a new leaf in Upkaar). Little did I realise that in our exciting times, the connotation of ‘wickedness’ too has turned over a new leaf!

I have a choice now of going in for a crash course on this new ‘chilling’ vocabulary to equip myself to face the ‘in’ crowd or opting out of it all with my own mode of chillaxing.

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