A deadly way to maul the Queen’s English

Published: 18th January 2013 11:40 PM  |   Last Updated: 18th January 2013 11:40 PM   |  A+A-

Besides broadening the mind, I find travel widens one’s exposure to the varied spellings (or rather misspellings) that some words enjoy. We don’t seem to care if we atrociously mutilate words so long as they convey our meaning. Indeed, it appears correct spelling is no longer sacrosanct to us, given our marked tendency to spell words arbitrarily.

Over the years I’ve come across some odd non-vegetarian fare in hotel menu cards like ‘Beep Fry’, ‘Brawn Curry’, ‘Grilled Grab’, ‘Selfish Special’ et al. One hotel offered ‘Pure vegetarian launch’ another ‘North & South Indian dashes’ while a third eatery’s roadside banner proclaimed ‘Relish Chief Arvind Kumar’s culinary offerings!’ Offsetting this was a newspaper report about the derailment of a goods train. It said, ‘The police chef has ruled out sabotage.’

Similar oversights are common elsewhere too. A banner flanking a national highway read ‘FIATS, VILLAS & PLOTS FOR SALE’ while another, less prominently displayed, announced ‘Excavator available for dugging work’. Then there was a bus that had thoughtfully set aside two seats for elders like me with the legend ‘For senor citizens only’. Were there such seats for the senoritas too, I wondered.

Other gems included a roadside cobbler’s cardboard sign that eloquently declared ‘Sue Polish’, a cycle-renting-cum-repair shop that had ‘Sickle Repairs’ painted above its doorway and — what takes the cake — a seedy-looking clinic with a banner pompously announcing, ‘Sink (shrink?) piles the easy way without sugary (surgery?)’ Perhaps the medical technique involved warranted an international patent.

Nearer home, I’ve watched a TV soap titled ‘Ross Petals’ and, of course, there’s a ‘Hardwear Store’ in town not to mention the ‘Snake god’, ‘Laddie’s fingers’, ‘Banes’ and ‘Bateroot’ for which the greengrocer religiously bills me. We do maul the Queen’s English in our eagerness to showcase our knowledge of it.

Spelling slip-ups involving personal names can be even more hilarious. A misplaced letter or two, usually unintentional, can transform one’s name altogether. My friends Dudley and Gordon were once dismayed to find that they had been rechristened ‘Deadly’ and ‘Gorgon’ respectively by careless government clerks — indeed there couldn’t have been two more harmless guys around. A Sister Pauline, a venerable old nun, once received a letter from the government addressed to her as ‘Sr Powerline’!

Equally amusing are spelling mix-ups like ‘Holy Angles (Angels) Convent’, ‘St Agony’s (Agnes’s) High School’ and ‘Champion (Campion) High School’. My perennial favourite, however, is ‘St Pole’s (Paul’s) Printing Press’.

As a teenager, an uncle once asked me to send a Christmas card, on his behalf, to a British tea planter named John Gouldsbury. In the absence of any guidance, I spelt the surname as I’d heard him pronounce it. A week later the planter reciprocated warmly, adding a jocular but pertinent postscript. “May I point out that there’s neither ‘gold’ nor a ‘berry’ in my surname?”

As Mark Twain once observed, “I don’t give a damn for a man who can spell a word only one way.” We, too, certainly don’t!


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