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A Word I hate From My Culture

Popularity 2Viewed 1294 times 2015-12-15 17:39 |Personal category:Quote Me|System category:Life| word, hate, from, cuture


It is common to see translations of words and phrases from different cultures often making their way into another language or even the original word itself. Most of them migrate with just one specific meaning associated with them, particularly if they have a strong connotation of being positive or negative. Examples are :- "Pariah", "Caste", "Leftover women".

"Caste" was a word manufactured by Europeans to describe something found in Indian culture, but not quite accurately. It has become a catch-all for a whole bunch of concepts and ideas, some originally quite positive, to something very negative as a blanket statement.

"Pariah" is another one - the meaning originates from "Pare" in Hindi/Sanskrit  meaning "beyond, aloof, keeping separated or at a distance". It was supposedly an applied wisdom to keep away, aloof from or at a distance from a certain kind of person or people, based on their character and nature rather than by birth, skin colour or family.

I find the term 'leftover' an interesting one. Technically, it may be just an accurate way of describing something that is remaining after some have been taken out from a set. To one who does not know the real or imagined cultural context, it might seem that there need be nothing offensive in being so accurate when it is applied to any thing or anyone. However, 'leftover' food has some negative connotation in many cultures, if served to guests or people who we should normally honour. It indicates something inferior or less than the best. After the best bits of the food have been already given to someone else and supposedly giving someone the remaining food, not out of absolute necessity but to send a message, indicates that they are not worthy enough. It is sometimes used as a cheap shot.

It is usually long term, thinking and knowledgeable locals who will understand all the subtle meanings and cultural connotations of a colloquial terms. Sometimes, taking something over to another language or culture, where a similar phrase would be viewed with a stronger feeling than in the original culture (where it might be also be acceptably used in a light vein) can give a distorted picture of the original culture of the people.

There is a word, however, from my own culture that I abhor, because I cannot see it in any positive light, even in the my native culture, particularly in current times when the conditions under which it probably evolved have changed.  Other than truly evil murderers and cruel crooks of the worst kind, who I would not mind getting the death penalty, I see no use for this word between civil folk.

There were times and places in the history of India when there was great scarcity of food, there were regular famines, large segments of the population lived on the edge of survival and every one in a family, old or capable enough was expected to contribute as soon as they possibly could. Usually the parents were first in line to do so. The oldest siblings were expected to start working, earning or doing enough chores in a significant way to contribute to the household next. The younger children were all expected to follow in the footsteps of the older siblings as soon as they too came of age. There must have been some among the families then, who might have been perceived, justly or unjustly, as not doing their share or doing their best pitching in, even as they were supported on the earnings of another. Under such dire conditions of famine and scarcity, when an individual was seen to be clearly not doing their part and eating their share of food, earned by others, perhaps this word might have been justifiable.

It is quite possible, that is how it evolved and remained in use within the culture. It was intended to evoke pique, provoke and get the person roused to action to defend their wounded pride and honour, hopefully they would try harder and contribute something positive. It usually worked. Hence the word remained in use.

It remains in use today and there are many instances of people, even parents using it to goad their lazy kids to do more, to go out and earn. Sometimes it is added as an insult to a person who may not be able to work for understandable reasons, but intended to hurt their feelings deep inside. Parents have been known to use it on one of the kids who did not do well in their high school examinations, on those who were not able to get a well paying job, while their sibling or neighbours kid did well. I still see it in use and existence in the culture. To me, it is a term, whose time has passed and should be put to rest, never to be used, particularly against family or one's children.

Gradually, even if the economic conditions of the family changed, there must have been other situations where people used the term to convey a personal insult or in other situations to get someone do their share of work, or do more to contribute. There is an English word today that achieves the same effect without being so visceral. The English word is - 'Slacker', but I want you to consider the Tamil, Indian word that I hate. It is "Dhandasoar" (pronounced 'Dhun-duh-soar' or with another local accent 'Dhandachor' - the 'ch' as in chicken.)

Dhanda - is derived from 'Dhandam' meaning 'useless' or 'wasted', and 'Soar' means food - meaning a person on whom food is wasted.

To me it seems a particularly offensive, visceral insult in modern times. It is like a lot of very offensive or foul language we see in use, in all languages around the world today.We need to come up with less offensive words to convey the feeling and meaning behind 'Dhandasoar' in the current times. Maybe Tamil should borrow the word 'Slacker' from English as it has already borrowed many and they are in common use.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report Newtown 2015-12-20 20:56
You wrote your "last post" four days ago on CD. What is this : back from the grave ? A messiah ? That sounds something akin to pariah so perhaps you could reveal to us the secrets of your reincarnation.

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