I recently spent a month in India weathering the heat waves of Delhi, marveling over the marble mosaics of the Taj Mahal, and sighing over semi-precious stone beaded necklaces in Jaipur. I also spent that month sighing over the “laundaury” sign at the Taj Palace hotel in Delhi, groaning over the “marcroni” in a “ristraunt” en route from Agra to Jaipur, and rolling my eyes at the various spellings of “pulav” and “pilao” in a menu at a seedy eatery in Jaipur.
It seems ridiculous that a country once colonized by the British would be so riddled with spelling errors. Is it too much to ask a restaurant to at least stick with the same misspelling of an item on its menu? At the Taj Palace, a five-star hotel that burned a hole the size of an aloo paratha in my dad’s wallet, the website boasts that it “has played host to Heads of State, corporate moguls, and high profile businessmen from across the world.” Its breakfast spread ranged from chocolate croissants and hash browns to freshly made uthappam and dosas to … “cucumer” and “tomoto” juice.
Even in Karnataka, home to India’s own Silicon Valley, I found that the curator at Tipu Sultan’s summer palace and museum (Daria Daulat Bagh in Srirangapatna) had not bothered to proofread the captions and descriptions of exquisite engravings and paintings. It grated on me to read that “Tipu Sultan was a grate king.” What must foreigners who tour the country think when even I can’t stomach the contradictions of leftover English in India?
Flipping through The Hindu or the Deccan Chronicle, I cringe at missing commas, misplaced modifiers, and just plain awkward sentences. I don’t see how “gloaming,” generally used in poetry and prose, could possibly be used in The Hindu to describe a tennis match that took place in Chennai at twilight. At the same time, I don’t understand how a word like gloaming can be woven into juvenile sentences undeserving of such high-flown language.
The Deccan Chronicle, on the other hand, makes me squirm as it confuses tenses, repeatedly misplaces relative clauses, and strings together what should be three separate sentences. I’m itching to pull out a red pen and mark up the paper. As the Deccan Chronicle might say, “as a result, on my part, much confusion is happening when I attempted to make sense of what is being written in this newspaper.”
It would be unfair of me to say that I’m only put off by the state of spelling and grammar in India. As the former opinion editor of my school newspaper, I found myself fixing basic grammar all the time. I was often correcting spelling mistakes, fretting over techniques that I—perhaps wrongly—assumed journalism students would rarely slip up on. I thought my job as an editor was to focus on the actual content of their stories, but I was constantly distracted by faulty mechanics.
At school, many of my classmates tend to wonder aloud about how to spell words like “embarrass” and “occasionally,” both of which are words that appear on the list of “100 Most Often Misspelled Words in English” from yourdictionary.com … along with words like “argument,” “believe,” “calendar,” “exceed,” “fiery,” “license,” and even “misspell”!
But my biggest pet peeve? When people confuse “your” for “you’re” or “its” for “it’s.” Much to my friends’ chagrin, I can’t help but correct that mistake, whether I find it in a school paper or in a silly Facebook wall post.
Fine, maybe I’m a slight grammar junkie. I certainly cannot, however, compare myself to the likes of essayist Anne Fadiman, a self-proclaimed book lover with a chronic case of both bibliophilia and logophilia. Her family doesn’t just stop at correcting the slightest mechanical errors in restaurant menus. Her family proofreads and copyedits every newspaper and magazine they encounter, filing away clippings of each mistake found. Fadiman says that after years of accumulating erroneous articles, her mother felt she should send all of her clippings back to the newspapers and magazines that they came from, simply to lend them a hand. The editorial crews were not amused.
I’m not saying that we all can, or should, emulate the Fadimans as they painstakingly attempt to rid the world of all grammatical (we)evils. But I’d say that the Fadiman spirit has slowly started to seep into my family as we bicker over differences in British and American spelling or grammar and squabble over how to pronounce those words that my parents always tend to say the “Indian” way instead of the “American” way. When my brother reads a book, he pauses to look up every word that he doesn’t recognize, even if it means searching the house for a dictionary. He often scolds my mom and me when we try and guess the meaning of a word simply by its context, berating us for our laziness. My parents always argue that it should be “none is” while my brother and I swear that “none are” is also correct and actually used more often. My inner copy editor tends to nitpick and correct even my mom’s writing, especially when it comes to the usage of commas, hyphens, dashes, and exclamation points.
Yet, despite how much I whine about other people’s grammar and spelling mishaps, I know I’m nowhere near perfect. So please, if you find any mistakes whatsoever in this column, do feel free to pull a Fadiman. Drop me a line, won’t you?
|Pavithra Mohan is a freshman at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.|