Sriharikrishna Mocherla | Eudemonic Semantics | New Delhi: Creative Crows. 2016
ISBN-10: 93-84901-40-7 | ISBN-13: 978-93-84901-40-0 | Pages xxvi + 232 | Rs 425
If you are a lover of English language and like to hone your expressive skills, Eudemonic Semantics is a pepping up and whetting tool, offering reams of edutainment in 75 chapters and 232 pages. The book is a result of years of keen study and observation by Sriharikrishna Mocherla, an ex-banker but more of an irrepressible language enthusiast who had earlier authored two books – Time to Hold Your Tongue and Mould the Language; and Vivid Dreams and Waking Visions.
His lingual avidness is a genetic flow from his father Mocherla Janaki Ramiah, an MA (Litt) from Nagpur University (1940), a charismatic lecturer and a co-compiler of Bala Saraswati Pictorial Gem Dictionary – English to English to Telugu along with Mallampalli Somasekhara Sarma, a renowned historian.
The book under review is not a drab or scaring tome of grammar but a friendly tête-à-tête that captivates you in with its levity, wit and humour.
While every chapter is interesting, here are some which are much more interesting: Tongue Twisters, Esoteric Explanations, Anagrams, Palindromic Persiflage, Portmanteau, Fun in Language, Acronyms, An Interesting Voyage into Words, Communication Skills, Spoonerisms, Are You an Internet Addict?, Newspaper English, Magic in Letters, and Pleonasms.
Talking of English as a “crazy” language, he regales us with his observations and remarks: “There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple” (p 63).
The chapter ‘Oxymoron’ tickles us with expressions like “small crowd” and “alone together” (47). In the same vein, the prefix ‘-ex’ sends him into an assonantal gush: “This is an exclusive and exciting experiment to expedite the exact extent of excellent words, expanding their extant usage culminating in exquisite execution, without any exaggeration” (54).
And you are treated to “deft” – in fact, rather daft or facetious – definitions of persons, places and things. A city bus is “a vehicle that runs faster when you are after it and very slowly when you are in it,” and a school is “a place where the son plays and his father pays” (65).
Acronyms have become a sparkling part of English and they are sometimes a tribute to the genius of their creators. If we say “Maths” stands for “Mentally Affected Teacher Harassing Students,” almost every student jumps into a peal of nodding chortles (73). Considering that lawyers have to be liars by default, here is what their LL B degree stands for: “Licensed to Lie Blatantly” (76).And see how a wag has turned even the Acronym itself into an acronym: “Abbreviated, Coded Rendition Of Name Yielding to Meaning” (73).
Coming to communication skills, the author smirks at the heebie-jeebies that most of the would-be public speakers go through: “A good speech is like a baby – easy to conceive, but difficult to deliver” (107).
The amusing spoonerisms include “Why did you hiss my mystery class yesterday?” (for “Why did you miss my history class yesterday?” (128) and “Go and shake a tower” (for “Go and take a shower”) (129).
The author has given the multi-functionality of the word “age,” but hasn’t mentioned its facet as a verb. He also talks of its suffixing role, but erroneously categorises the words “wage” “rage” and “stage” as suffixed derivatives (p 11).
The ‘Tongue Twisters’ (p 13-17) have omitted the (possibly) toughest one: “Sixth sick sheikh’s sixth sheep sick.”
The chapter ‘Esoteric Explanations’ improvises funny meanings. ‘Artery’ becomes a ‘study of fine paintings’; ‘bacteria,’ a ‘back door of a cafeteria’; and ‘ultra sound,’ a ‘sound made by radicals’ (p 21). In the same chapter the author makes a 4-year old school child reel off his school experience to his mother, not in small or broken sentences but in a long sentence of 44 words in a 4-line sentence! (p 22)
In another chapter he lists out words ending in a silent-T but doesn’t qualify they are all French which they are.
The chapter ‘Palindromic Persiflage’ presents many a palindrome, but only a few of them are meaningful, and one such is: “Doc Note: I Dissent A Fast Never Prevents Fatness. I Diet On Cod” (p 35). Misprint of a few palindromes has played spoilsport.
Most of us must have, in our daily parlance, come across and used portmanteau words, a combination of two different words by joining the first part of the first and the second part of the second, with a blend of meaning of both – like “edutainment” and “fantabulous.” However, note the more interesting ones, culled by the author, like “Chillax” (Chill + relax), “Cyberzine” (Cyberspace + magazine), and Brangelina (Brad Pitt + Angelina Jolie). He says the plural form is only “portmanteaux,” whereas “portmanteaus” is also lexically authentic (p 38-39).
The book bubbles with quotes (though sans quote marks), yet the author has given a separate chapter ‘Quotable Quotes,’ wherein the one from Rabindranath Tagore is worth pondering – “If you shut your door to all errors, truth will be shut out” (p 40).
In ‘Zed Category’ the writer goes gaga over the verbs with their past and past participle forms ending in ‘-zed’… “Salt is iodized, rubber is vulcanized, steel is galvanized, union leaders are lionized, innocent people are victimized,” but “communal riots are sensitized” (instead of “sensationalized”).
Likewise the maze of words with the prefix ‘in-’ so amazes the writer that he goes into an ingenious rhapsody: “In fact, the infinitude of these words starting with ‘IN’ intrigued me and I found them invariable and invaluable. Let me introduce and interpret those words which inundate the language,” though in some of them “in-” is not the actual prefix but something else.
As for panagrams, the writer is content with the 32-lettered “Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs,” (p 77) without including some shorter (and meaningful) ones like “Bright vixens jump; dozy fowl quack.”
Coming to the word “orange,” (p 92) the author presumes there is no word rhyming with it, though it does rhyme with “syringe” and “door-hinge.”
The writer claims that “forty winks,” “snooze,” and “wink” are synonyms of “siesta,” (p 157) whereas it is not strictly so, for the first three denote only a brief spell of sleep, but not a post-lunch one. At best, they are only broader synonyms, but not equivalents. Likewise, he presumes that “somniacs” vis-à-vis “insomniacs” is a neologism (of backformation) (p 157); but it is no longer so, having found its way into the well-known Urban Dictionary.
In the long list of manias, “dacnomania” is shown as “obsession with killing,” (p 184) whereas actually it is “a compulsive urge to bite people.”
It’s always proper to be succinct instead of beating about the bush and hiding behind the words, so means the writer and goes on to share this wisdom: “… it is better to avoid tautological redundancies and pleonasms as far as possible, as they land us in unnecessary verbiage and confer a sort of dubious distinction. It is advisable to remember that ‘brevity is the soul of wit’” (p 198). But see, how the writer self-obliviously goes into an overdrive by juxtaposing the three words carrying the same meaning – tautology, redundancy and pleonasm.
To be duly frank and honest – lest this reviewer should be taken for a flatterer or seen guilty of suppressio veri, the book of this importance has, regrettably, missed the due care of copy-editing and publishing professionalism it deserves. Here are some of the glaring shortcomings, being pointed out in a spirit of bonhomie and with all respect to the author for his diligence.
1. Omission of three prelim sections – Tribute, Dedication, and Letters of Appreciation – from the Contents list.
2. Improper intra- and inter-linear/para spacing; and substandard formatting.
3. Preface preceding the Foreword as against established conventions.
4. The first para of the Author’s bio is rightly in the third person, but the second para slips into the first person.
5. The book is, surprisingly, categorised as a “novel” in the Disclaimer in the Publisher’s page.
6. The author has appended the chapters with diversionary material like jokes, light-hearted quotations, humorous snippets, or his own creative obiter dicta. But he has tailed all of this non-contextual stuff together with the textual matter, without conspicuously marking them off from each other. Perhaps the non-textual matter could have been contained in a table.
7. There are factual errors too, for example the author shows Shakespeare’s literary output as “more than 18 comedies, 3 tragedies and as many as 154 sonnets (p 114); as against the actual position of – 17 comedies, 10 tragedies, 10 historical plays and 5 poetry works including the said sonnets (http://shakespeare.mit.edu/).
8. There are disjointed and needlessly verbose expressions. For example the author says in the Preface that this book provides the “readers’ minds with proper hints to recall, regain, recapitulate many words which may be otherwise alluding (instead of ‘eluding) the users who feel suffocated at times” (p x). One devoid of – or groping for – the right words doesn’t feel suffocated but vacuous, being at a loss for them. And many more pleonasms have crept in, like “insult or humiliate” (p 23).
9. A book like this on language, usage, semantics, syntax and diction should be infallible. Otherwise, the very purpose and spirit of the author who is intent on sharing his greater knowledge and wisdom gets diluted, if not lost. The author points out the bloomers in someone else’s expression where “condone” is used for “condole” and “sole” for “soul,” and makes a tongue-in-cheek remark, “can we call it a tragi-comedy or a comedy of errors?” (p 122), but doesn’t the author make himself vulnerable with his own indiscretions aplenty? Of course, Harikrishna has the grace and heart even to laugh at himself, knowing him as I do.
Finally, let’s have the writer’s own take about his book. Says he in the Preface, “The reader finds this book very interesting, absorbing, and assimilating,” having immediately preceded it with the advice, “Brevity is the soul of wit” (p x). Won’t, then, one be tempted to wisecrack that Eudemonic Semantics is pregnant with ‘demonic antics’ by virtue of the printer’s devils (demons) galore. Curiously, the writer has a whole chapter on ‘Printer’s Devils’!
Let this reviewer make himself more clear to the author. This criticism is not out of any shadow of malice but out of a fund of goodwill. A bosom friend of author Harikrishna, this reviewer who attended the memorable launch of his Vivid Dreams and Waking Visions in April 2011 and also later on feasted on it, promptly shared his approbation with him, in a mail on April 20, 2011: “It shows that you are always lost in breathing, feeling, sleeping, and dreaming the rich mine of English language with all its accoutrements. What an eagle eye and passion you have for the beauties of the English tongue, communication skills, scintillating nuances and niceties of semantics, depths and delights of diction, et al!”
(A much shorter version of this review was published in The Hans India daily of Oct 30, 2016)