By Tinky Ningombam
In my home in Imphal, we used to have a lot of household things that we gave our own unique names to. And these were only understood by the people in my family. Long time ago, when I was a kid, my dad invented a fly swatter with a long stick of bamboo and cut-out rubber tubes , it was called the “housefly” , it was however ill-coined or beyond the grasp of normal imagination, but it was understood very well by people who would chance upon it.
Humans have an innate need for order. We like to assemble our thoughts and rationalize. That is why whenever we stumble across something mysterious or unknown, we try to find ways to adapt it to our thought process. With the need of people to have an order of things in and around us, we start by recognizing and naming things and familiarizing with the names. Things that we discover new have to be named something so that it fits into our rational thought process, more or less.
In our modern world, we have started using new words in our vocabulary that would have seemed weird before. Things like “Why don’t you MESSAGE me” or ‘I want to DOWNLOAD this song” or “Miss-call me”. These new words are introduced daily into our ever-expanding vocabulary with the help of new products, thoughts and theories that are created almost everyday.
One great phenomenon is also the genericization of brand names. Things that were brands become everyday common words. How many people knew that KEROSENE was originally a trademark of Abraham Gesner ? How many of us would prefer to say Petroleum Jelly for “VASELINE”? Or antiseptic liquid for “DETTOL”? DETTOL definitely takes the cake in my list. Who on earth would have thought that all antiseptic liquid formula would be referred to as Dettol by more than a million people? Kudos to Reckitt Benckiser.
These brand names become so popular and strong that it becomes synonymous to the product category. And just a brief look at our day-to-day lingo shows how many foreign words we have incorporated in our vocabulary, most-oftentimes because it is simpler and better understood. Like saying “Surf” for washing powder or “Xerox” for photocopy or “Converse” for Canvas shoes or “Naughty boys” for Derby shoes, “Colgate” for toothpaste, “Vicks” for mentholated topical cream. ( “Mentholated Topical Cream” indeed. That would be a fabulous way to mess with the shopkeeper.) Products such as these have become common to our modern life and indispensible.
Sociologically, if one looks at the linguistic developments, one might see that we named things around us, which we saw and used but we stopped naming new things that were foreign and decided to borrow and use the more common and popular names . And in the process came the trademarks. Hence, now in our society, we have welcomed new words of other languages to slowly populate our vocabulary. Today, I find it hard to speak for 5 minutes without using an English word to mean something. And so do most of my friends. Day-to-day words from mobile phones, Coffee, Noodles, Buns, Biscuits, Chocolate, Fridge, Table, TV, Film, Cable, Bulb, Wire, Shawl, Jacket, T-shirt, Sofa, Table, Pencil, Stairs, Re-charge, Cream, Bus, Auto, Car, Bike … Phew. One can imagine how many of English words have come to mean a lot of things that we use and need everyday.
Without discrediting the infiltration of branded products into our lives, we continue to witness new lingos and a more global mix of words. Genericized brand names, borrowed product names, indigenous re-appropriation, we will see it all. And in the same line of thought, it is estimated that an average Japanese household have more than 90% of all their household items branded. This could mean a lot of new words adding into our normal vocabulary. But before that even happens to our homes, it will be fun to see how vocabulary evolves gradually with time. And in our local context, we see indigenous brand names which became common and popular in ours vocabulary such as “Keli-chana”, “Rani-phi”, “Magfruit” , it will be more fun to see if “Machal” becomes a synonym for masala or if “Kangla” for its garlic bhujia.
(As a fun project, the author has been trying to collate Manipuri words for day-to-day household items. Send in yours if you know of indigenous words for common products. Talk to me through Twitter at twitter.com/tnkiy, Email me at : [email protected] )