x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The tigress awakens

Coping with American English is tough for an Indian raised on the British version of the language.

You will not believe the kind of ribbing I faced when I moved to Canada. There I was, a product of an Indian boarding school where the syllabus was still dictated by the British. Spellings, pronunciation and even enunciation - all British-bound. When you land in another Commonwealth country, you expect things to be similar. They still had the Queen on their currency. So why the curmudgeonly insistence on omitting vowels that were put in for a purpose? Color instead of colour.

And the ludicrous use of the letter z, as in zed, not zee: analyze or analyse? Why would a country that still held on to so many other British-isms do such things? It was the proximity to the United States of America, the land of Americanisms. Practices south of the border had spilled into its northern neighbour. For more than a decade, after I arrived in Canada in 1997 on a scholarship to study journalism at university, I slowly converted my lexicon. Working in the print media, it was a painstaking process of uprooting every spelling and sentence formation to include the new style that was obviously a shortened, less sophisticated version of what I had been taught (in my opinion, anyway).

I still reach for the learning from my youth and call a swimsuit a swimming costume, a stroller a pram, and an eraser a rubber. Then there are football and American football. (Soccer is a term best left to the new world. We do things the good old-fashioned way. ) The other day I was watching a National Football League (NFL) match of (American) football. A team called the Cincinnati Bengals were playing against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Cincinnati Bengals fashion themselves after the royal Bengal tiger. In the middle of the field lay a giant image of an orange tiger with black stripes. I wanted to point out that the endangered species is actually yellow, dark brown- and white-striped, but in the spirit of things and knowing how Americans like to redefine everything, I held my peace until the announcer pronounced Bengals as "Bengels".

It was sheer butchery of a word known the world over, and not just for its association with the ferocious beast. "You know, even the tigers are called Bengels in America," said my friend. Really? That much defiance over a 1,000-year-old word that also describes an Indian state and a few million people who call themselves Bengalis. All now reduced to an Americanism that primarily defines a sports team in the US?

Somewhere, out there, I hope they hear my cries of protest. Pronunciation, indeed.