26 August 2011

Words Again

Author Amitav Ghosh delighted me by adding “The Ibis Chrestomathy” as a very clever appendix to Sea of Poppies. The “author” (a character in the book) of the shipboard lexicon was “a man obsessed with the destiny of words.” After being drawn into the lives of the characters, the etymology of commonly used words among East India traders and sailors is fascinating.

Meanings can often be deduced from their context, although others are elusive. Doolally-tap is construed as an illness, perhaps from prolonged drug usage; luckerbaugs describes men who behave like vicious animals. We can recognize words such as b'longi, backsee, bullumteer, mistri, as of English derivation either by pronunciation or context. And so many words from the Indian subcontinent that migrated into modern usage: dinghy, dungaree, cockup, bandanna, loot, pundit, shampoo, seersucker, and so on---with or without their original meanings. Some didn't migrate, and I wish they had! --- buckwash (idle talk, nonsense); choomer (a chaste kiss), duffadar (a minor bureaucrat), ruffugar (ruffian, villain), gollmaul (uproar).

The “Chrestomathy” is a splendid bonus for readers who savour words. Now if I could just figure out what buncomising is.

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