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Americanese vocabulary

Wassup, dude - you dig this?


Today India and America, and indeed the rest of the world, are joined by one language - Americanese. And that is really 'ah-sum'.

Just before the 2008 US elections - which, incidentally, made history by putting an African-American in the suddenly inappropriately named White House - The Times of India carried a lead editorial suggesting that since America occupied such a pre-eminent place in the world - not just militarily and economically, but also socially and culturally - its presidential election should not be restricted to Americans only but should follow the principle of a literally universal franchise and give everyone in the world the opportunity to cast their ballot.

America has yet to give all of us the right to vote for their president. But it has long given us the right to vote for its vocabulary and way of speaking. Today, the most commercially and culturally significant language in the world isn't English, as it once was;it is Americanese, which bears little relation to the so-called Mother Tongue propagated by the Brits.

Winston Churchill said that England and America were two nations separated by the English language. Today, England and America - and indeed all the rest of the world, including India - are joined by a single language: Americanese.
To put it in Americanese: How cool is that. Or, better still, how kewl, which is the 'cool' American pronunciation of 'cool'.

In India, everyone from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, via Karol Bagh and Kalighat, wants to speak Americanese, and sound American. It wasn't always like that. When I first went to America, way back in 1976, I asked for the loo. Everyone looked perplexed. I felt using sign language in this situation might be indelicate. But when I began to hop from one foot to the other in growing discomfort, my hosts said: "Ah, you want to use the rest room. Why didn't you say so?" I was relieved, in more ways than one. I'd just learned two words (or was that considered just one word?) of Americanese.

I soon packed up several more words of Americanese. For instance, if you want a tomato, in Americanese you don't say 'tom-ah-toe';you say 'toe-may-toe'. The contraption that takes you up and down inside a building is not a 'lift';it is an 'elevator'. The front part of the car that covers the engine is not the 'bonnet';it's the 'hood'. What you sit on is not your 'bottom' or your 'bum';it's your 'butt'.

But the most useful word in Americanese was taught to me by Omarr, my cousin who's been born and brought up in the US. We'd gone to a deli (Americanese for an inexpensive eatery serving snacky foods) and Omarr asked for a tuna melt sub (Americanese for large sandwich served hot) which he said was 'ah-sum'.

"Ah-sum ?" I repeated. "Yep. Ah-sum, " said Omarr. "What's ah-sum ?" I asked.

And Omarr explained that 'ah-sum ' could be pretty much anything which was wonderful, strange, unique, spectacular, very good, or very bad.

The Grand Canyon was ah-sum, as was the Taj Mahal. Man's landing on the moon had been ah-sum, as had the American Civil War which led to the freeing of slaves.
All ah-sum. As indeed was the word 'ahsum' itself, which could mean so many different things all at the same time.

"Isn't that ah-sum ?" asked Omarr. "Ah-sum, " I agreed, in pitch-perfect Americanese.

Since then my Americanese vocabulary has increased ah-summly. Thanks to the fact that Americanese is spoken all around me - not by Americans, but by Indians - I now know that if someone offers to kick my ass I shouldn't try and explain that I do not own a donkey which can be taken liberties with but should just get the hell away from there before I metaphorically receive a boot on the seat of my pants.

I've also learnt that 'wassup' is not a fusion sauce made by mixing Japanese wasabi with American ketchup but is a form of greeting, as in "Wassup, bro?" "How're they hangin?, " is not an enquiry as to how many prisoners on death row have been executed but is a salutation, and a general enquiry after one's health and well-being, but for reasons pertaining to biology is gender-specific and can only be addressed to males.

A 'dude' is not a stupid person who can't even spell 'dud' correctly, but a person, once again belonging to the male gender, who is 'with it'. And don't ask what's the 'it' that he's with, because that's like so unkewl, dude. Like you read me, or what? And I don't mean if you're reading this article or not.
You dig, dontcha?

Reader's opinion (1)

J PFeb 17th, 2013 at 20:11 PM

Relevant story, thanks!

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