An apol­ogy from a ‘dry-headed blockhead’

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

ACATCH-UP col­umn, today; ter­ri­ble give-away, declar­ing that a colum­nist’s head is dry. Ei­ther dry or over­laden by a last-night of mis­er­able in­puts on Africa and South Africa ret­ro­gress­ing.

Today’s too nice a day for that, feel­ings like spring mis­read its cal­en­dar, pitch­ing up early by a month.

Let’s wal­low in in­con­se­quen­tial­i­ties, like Home Af­fairs’ hours: Monday 8.30am-12pm Tuesday 8.30am-12pm Wed­nes­day 8.30am-12pm Thurs­day 8.30am-12pm Fri­day 8.30am-12pm Satur­day and Sun­day Closed They’re telling us they work a 77½ hour week. Yusssss! What su­per hu­mans!

Nearly twice as much as nor­mal peo­ple. How priv­i­leged we are to have them! Can we en­ter them for a global award?

Ex­cept we don’t re­ally believe them. We get out our mag­ni­fy­ing glass and our de­tec­tive’s hat and dis­cover that they, too, are fall­ing for the weird­est grow­ing na­tional habit.

They have de­cided that 11.57am can be­come 11.58am, can be­come 11.59am, can be­come 11.59.30am, can be­come 11.59.59am, can be­come 12pm.

This wasn’t al­ways so. There was a time that no am or pm at­tached to 12.00. It was 12 noon or 12 mid­night. We some­how ad­justed that, for a while – the eight­ies to the noughties, I’d say – to mid­night be­ing 12pm and noon be­ing 12am.

But now that has well and truly switched. That’s fas­ci­nat­ing, I would say. How? And why?

This is the sec­ond time I’ve seen a fad con­quer­ing English. The other – in Eng­land, also around the 80s – was so big that it was distin­guished by a name, Gro­cer’s Apos­tro­phe.

What’s hap­pened to that fad is dis­puted. Some say that Eng­land’s gro­cers have got the mes­sage; their apos­tro­phe is wan­der­ing back to obliv­ion.

But it is also said that other quar­ters, such as ac­coun­tancy, have caught the virus and are us­ing it in num­bers and fig­ures.

There have even been voices in cor­ners as var­ied as Cal­i­for­nia’s col­leges and Delhi’s pub­lic ser­vice, ring­ing alarms.

Both phe­nom­ena, I’d say – the 12am/ pm and the apos­tro­phe – qual­ify for the hall of fame of mankind’s mar­vel­lous idio­syn­cra­sies. How about words un­der change? I’m still to learn why “learn­ers” kicked “pupils” out of fash­ion, but that doesn’t mean I’m prej­u­diced against new words.

Look, among hun­dreds, at the sheer beauty of “law­fare”, which I thought was our own Sef­frican con­tri­bu­tion to global English.

Where has it ever been more fit­ting than here, with po­lit­i­cal play­ers su­ing each other as read­ily as eat­ing break­fast? But no, it comes from a Har­vard es­say in 2001.

Plenty of new words are not just neat, they grow civilised. I was young then, and de­fen­sively con­ser­va­tive. I’m old enough now to apol­o­gise. What block­heads we were, re­sent­ing women’s es­cape from life de­fined by mar­riage.

It’s around us, good peo­ple, clos­ing in, mak­ing writ­ing into sheer space-fill­ing, like load­ing rub­bish into a wheel­bar­row.

Damn, we might have dry-head days but we must keep try­ing!

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