One of the registrars where I work - his name is Asif, and he is from India
- has taken to using the word "prepone" when he means to say "bring forward".
No. I will rephrase that. He uses the word "prepone" when he means to say "prepone". If he had meant to say "bring forward", he would have said "bring forward". He means to say "prepone", and he damn well says it, he says the hell out of it, and he doesn't feel guilt or shame about it, he just does it. A long time ago I would have reacted to the word "prepone" in the same way that I react whenever a tramp wets himself in public, but I am a much wiser and more thoughtful man than I was.
For example, Asif might say "I have told the patient that he can prepone his appointment if the pain in his back deteriorates". This is a little white lie, because the patient cannot bring his appointment forward by himself. The GP can, on the patient's behalf, ask the consultant to bring the appointment forward, if both the GP and the consultant believe that to do so would be justified, but the patient cannot independently bring his appointment forward except in exceptional circumstances. It would be more accurate to say that "I have told the patient that his appointment may be preponed if the GP believes that to do so would be justified, or in exceptional circumstances at the patient's request, and if the consultant agrees to do this", but that would be tedious.
Still, the word "prepone". Until recently I had assumed it was bad English, because Asif is particularly louche, but the word makes grammatical sense and is actually very handy, although it has a feminine sound that disturbs me. Apparently it is quite a common word in India.
It got me thinking as to what constitutes good English and bad English. The answer is that there is no such thing as good or bad English, because there are no such things as good or bad; there is only convention. Furthermore language is not logical, it is a lot of arbitrary noises and symbols. There is no rationalising it. The end. You might argue that linguists have tried to rationalise language and that I am wrong, but you have to admit that although I am wrong, the greater truth of my argument is right.
I can understand where "prepone" comes from; the originator must have based it on the word "postpone", replacing "post" with "pre". (Apparently "pone" comes from the Swahili word "ponere", which means "two men contemplating the sight of a stick which has fallen through a hole, wondering whether the other man will attempt to retrieve the stick"). The English language is a living, growing thing that feeds on human beings. It has taken words from every culture, every corner of the world, and it has used those words. Prepone is just one of many words that has come from India, which is an enormous country full of people. English is the semi-official language of India, and many Indian people work in English-speaking countries. Indian English is therefore still growing, like a child's bones, or a tasty pie. But unlike the universe, which is dissipating.
My worry is that someone will tell Asif not to use the word prepone, and that by extension Indian English itself will be told to stop making up new words, and it will know shame, and become self-conscious, and resistant to change. It will become stunted and perverse. I have long believed that perversion, just like conservatism, is the result of childhood trauma. A metal spike becomes embedded in a child's soul, and as he grows to adulthood, scar tissue accumulates around this wound; or perhaps he was constrained during a young age, and has grown twisted. Guilt, shame, and constraint are the reasons why some men are sexually obsessed with lady's shoes, or the touch of a plastic bin bag. At the same time, childhood trauma is the reason why adults do not put their hands into boiling water, or run through stinging nettles. We can only eliminate perversion in a word without danger. Children enjoy playing with ants because it is funny. But they are taught not to play with ants, because society frowns on ants. And so children come to feel shame when they play with ants, and they feel shame when they contemplate ants, even though they must contemplate ants. They constrain themselves, and this causes intestinal problems later in life. That is why society is so wrong. Guilt and shame, and feelings of self-loathing, or exaggerated self-love; because for every meek shadeling, there is a monstrous egomaniac, and that is a perversion as well. I should have pipelinked "monstrous egomaniac" to someone. I should have done that.
There is also the metaphor of the pearl, which is grown around a speck of grit. It is not quite appropriate, because society values pearls, whereas it does not value a man's perversions, although this is not a universal rule. Some creative artists have dined well on the fruits of their perversions. Society values the perversions of John Waters and David Cronenberg. It does not however value the perversions of Charles Manson, and it did not value the perversions of Kaiser Wilhelm II, or that senator. If the perverts outnumbered the innocent by a sufficient margin, society would value perversion. Perhaps one man's perversion is another man's bread and butter.
And yet I am loath to command the people of India to resist linguistic constraint, because that would also be a form of perversion. It would be a form of negative perversion. Guilt and shame cannot be unfelt or unthought; the mere knowledge of their existence destroys innocence. If you tell a man that some people believe it is wrong to masturbate on the bus, but that it is not wrong to do so as long as the other passengers cannot see, he will nonetheless wonder why some people think it is wrong, and from then on, whenever he masturbates on the bus, there will be a tiny speck of grit in his mind, a little itching scab, just begging to be ripped away from a still-oozing wound, this creating an infection vector for the perversion bacteria.
And so I sincerely hope that the people of India do not read this. Do you remember the So Solid Crew?