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Saturday, October 20, 2007

½ Cool: A tribute to “coined terms” and idiosyncratic terminology

It came to me one evening, when I was at a rock concert funnily enough. In fact, I happened to think about this when I was talking to someone, and lo and behold, it popped into my head. I was trying to find a way of expressing the fact that the first act was less than perfect, and that even though they seemed to be trying very hard, it was perhaps, a little too hard. The essence of what I was trying to say had to do with being unimpressed and not being willing enough to give the performers the “100 for effort” that is so readily showered on those who “try so hard”. And so, I turned to my friend and said, “You know what, these guys are ½ cool.” She seemed a little bemused, perhaps a little befuddled, and so, I began to explain.

Back in the day, or should I say back in the “school” day, my friends Josh and Daya used to use this term, ½ Cool, to denote pretty much what I said in the last paragraph. However, I’m pretty sure there was a more positive aspect or connotation that was available to users should they have chosen to use it. You know, like saying it with a smile, a genuine smile, pasted across her or his face. Quite a versatile term that like most other things in modern spoken languages seem to have the ability to be embellished by using one’s eyes, tone of voice and body language. Yet, to be reminded of it after a gap of almost ten years seemed to baffle me.

Imagine how strange it was to me to have to think of the following sentence in my head: “I can’t believe I haven’t said that in so long. It’s such a cool thing to say!” Yeah right. ½ cool is such a cool thing to say? But you get the picture.

And this is how it is with a lot of the things that I remember us joking about. Who cares about beginning the sentence, in writing, with a fraction where it is preferred to use words and spell it out: Half cool… Ooooh! Methinks this is where the fun becomes a matter of protocol. Not even close to ½ cool. And it’s not just me, but my friends, and friends of my friends, and friends of friends who don’t even know my friends or even just a random group of people I would get up on stage and address as “Friends”.

Each one of us has something that we say that’s a peculiar way of expressing an idea. The thing is, for it to be widely accepted and used, its meaning or sense has to be easily understandable, and therefore, easily transferable. What kinds of words and terms have you used, or do you continue to use that you’re pretty sure no one else does outside of your circle of friends, or people in your community, or state, or even country? Looking for examples? Well, I thought you’d never ask…he he he.

On my first visit back to Kodai school, after I graduated high school, I found that most of the “boyz” were using the phrase, “be the caref” to mean something along the lines of “take care of yourself”. It sounded a little strange at first, no doubt, but the phrase was born of a tip-of-the-slung by one of these fellows, and as things of this nature have a way of happening, it stuck!

Oh, and then there were things like expressing ideas of utter despair, or in this case, the idea of utter stupidity as exhibited by someone standing in front of you. How did we do this? By asking, “What is right with you?” Sure, I know you’re reading this going, “That’s not so funny. What the hell is this guy on?” Well, allow me to give you the classic response to this question: “I guess you had to be there.”

Last, but certainly not the least, or even certainly not in the least, here is something that I still do to this day. It began as an annoying thing to say when you just feel the need to be annoying, and now I use it as a sort of “funny”, when I want to make people laugh. I must also say that this may be a predominantly South Indian thing because so far I’ve only used it with people from this part of the world. But hey, the future is wide open, eh? So, what is it that I do? Well, I take the last word of the sentence that someone says to me and add the “aaaa” (sounds like and extended ‘ah’) sound in a sort of questioning manner. Alright, let me see if I can explain it with an example.

If someone asks me something like, “Have you had lunch?” I would say, “Lunch-aaaa?” The rising intonation on the word “lunch” followed by the dropping “aaaa” gives the impression of questioning the sheer sense, the absolute improbability of the proposition. And so it is with almost anything that another person may say to you. Keep in mind, however, that timing is everything, and to use this sparingly should you choose to try it for yourself. If it doesn’t work, then drop it…like a hot potato, or rock, depending on which ever one you’re more used to handling without appropriate equipment and therefore in the habit of dropping so often.

And that’s pretty much it with all the words that are made up. Neologism. That’s the word I just discovered. Now, I don’t know how far any of the things that I’ve mentioned here are “neologisms”, but I will say that they exist everywhere in the world. So, here’s to them because they make what you say or do that much more interesting, that much more flavorful. Am I arguing that all language is a collection of neologisms? No. After all, the word apparently came into existence in the 1800s. So, what did we call it before then? Nothing, I suppose. We just did what we did, and said what we said. And as long as we don’t stop doing that, we’re all set to add to the exciting arena of self-expression in the human world.

Vive le ½ cool!

Thank you Josh and Daya.
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