English not just a ‘nice thing’

2011-03-12 13:12

So Free State Premier Ace Magashule’s VIP guests were gobsmacked when he excused himself “to go and see my mistress”.

They were as flabbergasted as I was many moons ago when judging a Miss Matric beauty contest in Soweto where one of the contestants, when asked about her future aspirations, boldly answered: “Me. I want to be a mistress.”

Shocked, I whispered to the female judge next to me: “Whose mistress does she want to be?”

Then began my education on the intricacies of language usage in Jozi when she told me the child was ­referring to a female teacher.

In the province that I hail from – the one with the double-barrelled name, KwaZulu-Natal – teachers are either called Miss or Mrs, depending on their ­marital status.

I also learned that twins can mean any number from upwards such as “my mother got four twins the other day”.

And one of my favourites is when people would pose in front of a camera, smile and beg: “Can you shoot me please?”

I’m not an English ­language expert but the strange use of some words and phrases has led me to coin the term unEnglish-English.

Some people start most of their sentences with: “The thing is ... ” Were they never taught better words for “thing” or “nice”?

The thing about the word “thing” is that anything can be called a “thing” just like any ­object can be “nice”, but there are a myriad specific words such as “exquisite” and “delicious”.

Then there those who used to say: “I come from the ‘Northren’ Province.” When did the “r” get before the “e”?

The same lot is so fascinated with the word “can” that they use it twice in sentences such as: “We need an explanation so that we can be able to ‘can’ solve the problem.”

New words have come with social media such as short message services (SMSes), MXit, Twitter and ­Facebook where you find words such as “good night” spelled “gd nyt” or “gud n9t”.

Last month I received GPY as a response to a joke I had emailed to a friend.

“Meaning?” I wrote back. And the reply was: “Gilikidi phansi yinsini” – isiZulu for I’m falling down with laughter.

So the language of Shaka is now part of modern-day ­communication.

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