How to fix grammatically insane phrases found in common Indian English
By Daniel DMello 13 June, 2011
“Do one thing…take this piece of chalk…”
We are a unique species, aren’t we? Not humans. Indians, I mean. No other race speaks or spells like we do.
Take greetings for example.
A friendly clerk asking me for my name is apt to start a conversation with, “What is your good name?” As if I hold that sort of information close to my heart and only divulge my evil pseudonym. Bizarre.
I call these Indianisms.
Which got me thinking about a compilation, a greatest hits of the 10 most hilarious Indianisms out there. And here they are. The most common ones, and my favorites among them.
1. ‘Passing out’
When you complete your studies at an educational institution, you graduate from that institution.
You do not “pass out” from that institution.
To “pass out” refers to losing consciousness, like after you get too drunk, though I’m not sure how we managed to connect graduating and intoxication.
Oh wait … of course, poor grades throughout the year could lead to a sudden elation on hearing you’ve passed all of your exams, which could lead to you actually “passing out,” but this is rare at best.
2. ‘Kindly revert’
One common mistake we make is using the word revert to mean reply or respond.
Revert means “to return to a former state.”
I can’t help thinking of a sarcastic answer every time this comes up.
“Please revert at the earliest.”
“Sure, I’ll set my biological clock to regress evolutionarily to my original primitive hydrocarbon state at 1 p.m. today.”
3. ‘Years back’
If it happened in the past, it happened years ago, not “years back.”
Given how common this phrase is, I’m guessing the first person who switched “ago” for “back” probably did it years back. See what I mean?
And speaking of “back,” asking someone to use the backside entrance sounds so wrong.
“So when did you buy this car?”
“Oh, years back.”
“Cool, can you open the backside? I’d like to get a load in.”
4. ‘Doing the needful’
Try to avoid using the phrase “do the needful.” It went out of style decades ago, about the time the British left.
Using it today indicates you are a dinosaur, a dinosaur with bad grammar.
You may use the phrase humorously, to poke fun at such archaic speech, or other dinosaurs.
“Will you do the needful?”
“Of course, and I’ll send you a telegram to let you know it’s done too.”
5. ‘Discuss about’
“What shall we discuss about today?”
“Let’s discuss about politics. We need a fault-ridden topic to mirror our bad grammar.”
You don’t “discuss about” something; you just discuss things.
The word “discuss” means to “talk about”. There is no reason to insert the word “about” after “discuss.”
That would be like saying “talk about about.” Which “brings about” me to my next peeve.
6. ‘Order for’
“Hey, let’s order for a pizza.”
“Sure, and why not raid a library while we’re about it.”
When you order something, you “order” it, you do not “order for” it.
Who knows when or why we began placing random prepositions after verbs?
Perhaps somewhere in our history someone lost a little faith in the “doing” word and added “for” to make sure their order would reach them. They must have been pretty hungry.
7. ‘Do one thing’
When someone approaches you with a query, and your reply begins with the phrase “do one thing,” you’re doing it wrong.
“Do one thing” is a phrase that does not make sense.
It is an Indianism. It is only understood in India. It is not proper English. It is irritating.
There are better ways to begin a reply. And worst of all, any person who starts a sentence with “do one thing” invariably ends up giving you at least five things to do.
“My computer keeps getting hung.”
“Do one thing. Clear your history. Delete your cookies. Defrag your hardrive. Run a virus check. Restart your computer… .”
8. ‘Out of station’
“Sorry I can’t talk right now, I’m out of station.”
“What a coincidence, Vijay, I’m in a station right now.”
Another blast from the past, this one, and also, extremely outdated.
What’s wrong with “out of town” or “not in Mumbai” or my favorite “I’m not here”?
9. The big sleep
“I’m going to bed now, sleep is coming.”
“OK, say hi to it for me.”
While a fan of anthropomorphism, I do have my limits. “Sleep is coming” is taking things a bit too far.
Your life isn’t a poem. You don’t have to give body cycles their own personalities.
“Let’s prepone the meeting from 11 a.m. to 10 a.m.”
Because the opposite of postpone just has to be prepone, right?
“Prepone” is probably the most famous Indianism of all time; one that I’m proud of, and that I actually support as a new entry to all English dictionaries.
Because it makes sense. Because it fills a gap. Because we need it. We’re Indians, damn it. Students of chaos theory.
We don’t have the time to say silly things like “could you please bring the meeting forward.”
Prepone it is.
There are many more pure grammatical “gems” in what we call Indian English. Perhaps in time I’ll list some more. And perhaps in the near future, we’ll get better at English.
Till then, kindly adjust.
Daniel D’Mello currently lives and works in Mumbai, where he enjoys reading, writing, planning trips, taking photos, attending gigs, catching up on films and T.V. and taking a keen interest in animal behavior