May 12, 2017

Big Words Get Big Jobs

 Desmond Macedo.

I was once stuck in a lift when a girl inside remarked, ‘God, it’s so claustrophobic in here.’

I had heard this word inside lifts quite often and began to wonder if lifts were erected so that people could find occasion to use the word, or, whether people were using the word in wrong places so construction engineers came up with lifts where people could use it appropriately. 

But these days when I hear it inside a lift, stalled or moving, I notice how people’s ears swivel around to the direction where the word came from so it can slide into their ear passages easily, one syllable at a time, four syllables in all, one large and three small.

After the whole word has disappeared into their ears, getting itself to bounce on the tympanic membrane – claustrophobic won’t bounce on anything so banal as eardrum – I see them pull the string of syllables out, then let it in, spring-like, where it makes the sound of the pronunciation, like online dictionaries with the audio pronunciation button,  and ponder over it. One is trying to spell it in his mind. One is trying to count the number of alphabets in the word, having read that alphabets make up a word. Another is trying to memorise the line, ‘God, it’s so claustrophobic in here,’ saying to herself, ‘Use the line when inside in a lift.’ Another gets the syllables jumbled up inside his ear, so the word is assembled as ‘claus-pho-tro-bic’ and is now pulling the syllables out, one by one, four in all, in an attempt to rearrange them, and re-insert them into his ear passage, which, in all probability, would again be the incorrect arrangement, and he would be better of learning the word as ‘clausphotrobic,’ which, in time, would be the correct form among those who hear it inside a lift from him, or, at worst, there’d result in two kinds of people caught in a lift: those who learn claustrophobic, and those who  learn clausphotrobic.

I, too, made a note of possible claustrophobic places, like conference rooms, where I could use the word and show off my vocabulary – I had noticed, of late, this word was being amputated to vocab. I don’t approve of amputating large words, not at least the bulary from vocab, and never at all the bulary from a consta.

‘God, this place is so claustro.’ Why would people shorten large words when their purpose is to show off one's bulary ?’

Meanwhile, the girl who used the word inside the lift, tired of running behind artwork and business presentation slides, left Mumbai for London to do an MBA.

Just a couple-a-days later, while I am at my desk, a girl colleague walks into the office and holds forth as if she were making a business presentation, ‘Gosh, I had the morbid happenstance of getting stuck in a lift today. The claustrophobia is overwhelming.’

This time, several colleagues were vigorously making note of this circumstance lookalike, in a usage so earful, the word slid into their ear passages dragging the entire sentence along, but only partially, with part of it dangling outside their ears, as colleagues tried to read dangling words. Some snipped the section dangling outside their ears, twirled it around their forefingers, and spun it around like a key chain, with colleagues trying to read words spinning in the air.

I had another problem. Two people in an office looking for opportunities to use claustrophobic were threatening to render it a cliché very soon, after which, it would be boring to use it in a sentence, with or without happenstance, and pointless to use the lift.

But the girl who went to London to do an MBA completed it and got a job there in an advertising firm as a Strategy Planner.

‘Big words get big jobs,’ I say to myself out load, so I can hear it, swivel a earlobe in the direction of my mouth, pick up the sentence, and shove it through my acoustic meatus.