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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Humour Me, Please.

Many studies show that laughter is good for your health. However, if there is something that is not always subject to globalization it's humour. Certain types of fun-poking can cross national boundaries, and they are often gender-based or ethnic-/race-based. If you are a Swiss you may laugh at Poles. If you're a Trini you may laugh at Vincis, and so on. When humour falls flat it's for several reasons, particularly, delivery--timing, place and type of audience, but also bewilderment. Caribbean people may love to go on about funny things in cricket, but if all you can think of is an insect at the mention of that word, and some one is running on about stumps, and bails, and pads, and silly-mid-on, they may be met with a widening pair of eyes, and whispered "Is the ambulance here yet?"

I do not know any Bajan jokes, meaning I know of no jokes about Bajans and I do not know of any jokes that may be regarded as typically told by Bajans. I'm still relatively new and I have yet to spend a whole day in a rum shop, so time may be all that is between me and that level of understanding. I have heard Bajans laugh, and I have also laughed too at the same time, and I hope for the same reasons.

One funny characteristic of Bajans that a Bajan acquaintance--dare I say, friend--pointed out to me is a tendency to misspeak. He tells me that people say things like "edumacated". But that one could be a joke on us, as the Urban Dictionary explains:

The term 'edumacated' is used commonly to poke fun at someone who has made either a spelling or gramatical (sic) error whilst trying to appear as a person of intelligence. This is emphasised with the intentional mispronounciation (sic) of the word "educated":

Sarah: "I really hope they make an inception for me, seeing as how I'm new to this."

Luke: "It's exception idiot. Damn, I can tell that you've been well edumacated.


Now, I have heard a few howlers on the radio--mainly on Brass Tacks. I was driving from the airport one afternoon when the stress of more cricketing failure led one caller to utter "Stop casting aspirations [aspersions] at people". I mentioned this to someone I know and he nodded sagely. You know that might not be so silly, then said, "Casting aspirations [audible breath; withdrawal of fluid or tissue from the body] at others is dangerous in this time of H1N1 virus."

A local political strategist wrote "He did not bash an eye lid..." (see Barbados Underground post, What is the song and dance about the hike in water rates?). We know that there's plenty of rough and tumble in politics but it seems to be getting very physical.

We know that humour is contextual. Why else would an economist--not me, when hearing of the VOB call-in program think it was 'brass tax'?

My favourite written malapropism by far has to be the commentary, "It's a pity that Witches and false Profits are no longer burnt at the stake". Bring me the profit and loss account of Bernie Madoff?

Now, some of these we could excuse as mere typos. Others are down to people never learning or having forgotten the correct word--we should know the real problems in English with principle and principal, as a simple instance. It's in our interest to know the difference. I wonder if when seen, one should take the teaching moment. A radio moderator may find it hard to either stop giggling or halt a caller in full vent with a "Sorry to stop you here, but the right word is...." But, if not, then words like "contribunary" will continue to be used instead of "contributary". People need to be edumacated.

Foreigners are of course prone to these linguistic howlers, especially if they are not working in their native languages or dialects. I remember how a lot of Jamaicans could not understand Cockney accents in London: Caribbeans stress vowels differently. So, when an attractive young English girl would say to a Jamaican man, "Hey, mate. You wanna good f**k?", our 'Desmond' would say "No, Miss. Me ha good fork a yard dat me wife modda giv me." I'm not sure who was more confused at that point.

I've written before how Bajans seem unable to grapple with the other meanings of the word 'bulla', which in Bajan slang is a homosexual man, but in Jamaica is a spicy bread-like delicacy (see No more eating bulla...). All I have to say to one of my Bajan acquaintances, especially a woman, is "Listen, I love to have a nice sweet bulla. You wan come try one wid me?" and open mouth and goggle eye are all I see.

I don't know if there is any way out from under these problems unless we all learn Esperanto. But, I'm happy to keep finding that people can trip over their tongues or get their fingers twisted.

2 comments:

Jeff said...

Interesting and humorous piece.One error, though. It's "CONTRIBUTORY" not "contributary". Seems like you are hoist with your own petard.

Dennis Jones said...

Jeff,

Thanks on all fronts, and corrected. My petard was not too painful.