WILD COOT: Hearing the word grunge
THE WILD COOT was about to call the DAILY NATION’s editor to draw attention to the English lapse of the newspaper on Tuesday, October 25 on Page 3, in the middle, right under the headline, Minister Insists Education System Up To Scratch, at the bottom of the fifth paragraph.
Then on reflection, I know that once or twice the NATION’s officer responsible for my articles finds and corrects a typographical error made by me. In any case the experience and exposure of dealing in old English, modern and old Spanish, modern and old French, Latin, and Portuguese sometimes confuse my spelling. To correct this, I send my articles before they are published, to a friend whose specialty is English.
I say all of this because I do not think that our minister of education suffers from the same overexposure as the Wild Coot. The new word “grunge” cannot be found in the English dictionary or in Richard Allsopp’s Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage or even the Scrabble dictionary. What did our minister mean when he reportedly said: “So I am going to shatter shortly a lot of the grunge that I am hearing out there?” Is the word found in the vernacular, which often expresses a feeling, or even the Guinness Book of Curious Words, or is it peculiar to the minister? As the minister of education, perhaps he is authorised to invent language for the benefit of Barbadian students who have been reported as not being up to scratch.
This is not the first time that our minister has been speaking in tongues and with tongues. But should he not be a role (road/rose) model to his saplings, because after all, he is the minister? It is not to say that he is new in the job and is kind of nervous or tongue-tied. He has been the minister since Adam was a lad in short pants (leaves) roaming the Garden of Eden. His words carry a great resonance.
So if it is not a typo, the minister should publish and circulate to the schools and the general public an appendix to his many speeches and exhortations (and his extemporaneous evaporations) for the teachers and students so that they can remain up to scratch.
For quite a while now, reports have been circulating that the standard of many school-leavers has fallen. Some even say that students leave school without being able to read or without a school certificate better than a C grade. Therefore, the minister is not on holy ground when questions are asked and he promises to refute the charges. Somebody wrote in the papers the other day that we shall soon be a Third World nation; but with our debt ratio tottering at over 100 per cent of our GDP, we are a Third World nation. With the spectre of corruption hovering over us, we are like a banana republic. How about all the accusations of who get kickbacks and [benefit from corruption]? We are a nation operating under the radar.
The minister of education is speaking in public as if in a foreign language and inventing words, but in an opposite way the prime minister measures his words, although he appears in public and contends that his appearance is private. He asks for respect because he is dealing with a matter that has been a public football for the past umpteen months. That he should want to shoo away the NATION reporter is in itself disrespectful. However, one cannot say that the language of the prime minister is in any way inventive. That is one brush with which he cannot be tarnished. Unlike the minister of education.
But it is not surprising that our minister of education has displayed a propensity for unusual words. Maybe the whole island is in an inventive mood. Words are truncated on the Internet. The Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation is sometimes guilty of strange pronunciation or ideas, so the minister is only reflecting what is going on in the island and maybe in schools.
Maybe the word “grunge” refers to cracking heads. It may also be a word used in Cabinet and that his colleagues understand quite well. This trend of the minister is upsetting, as praise has always been heaped on the island and previous ministers of education for their command of the English language whereby they gave charges a standard to emulate. One must be aware that a minister of education is the foremost showpiece of the country as well as of those who come from the country.
The last paragraph of the report where the minister compares his personal success in development with that of today’s children, leaves him a bit short when he makes the comparison. Perhaps he did not quite understand what he said.
• Harry Russell is a banker. Email: quijote70 @gmail.com.