Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Ridiculously expensive", yet "worth the price"?

The question that appears as the title of this write-up has stemmed from the headline of an article published in the latest issue of a magazine. The article, the title suggested, promised to tell the readers about "5 Ridiculously Expensive Things That Are Worth Their Price". Now, a thing can be either worth its price or it can be ridiculously expensive. How can it be both? Perhaps the compiler wanted to suggest that these were costly items, ill-affordable, but justifiably so because of their quality and the reputation of the brand etc. One only wishes he or she had known that the use of "ridiculously" was lending the article itself to ridicule! Ironically, it is the magazine itself that turns out to be "ridiculously expensive", priced at Rs 100 per copy when most journals, printed inside the country, offer similar content at half the price! Perhaps, the publishers would try to defend themselves saying that their product is meant for people with fat purses and little time to read. Nevertheless, coming back to the starting point, this was yet another example of slipshod writing in general and slovenly use of words in particular.
Those involved in producing this article had lost sight of the simple fact that the headline would have been an eye-catcher even without the injudicious use of the adverb "ridiculously". If prefixing it with an adverb was at all necessary, the good old "highly" could have served the purpose. This is, however, just one example. Journals nowadays are replete with instances of words being put to use without much thought. The magazine referred to at the beginning of this write-up was the India edition of an internationally renowned journal. Another internationally-renowned journal, which unfortunately does not yet have a full-fledged India edition, seems to take immense delight in talking about the "ruling military government" in Myanmar, as if there could be a government in opposition too. Can there be a government that is not in power, or which, in other words, does not "rule"? What is the point in asserting that it is a "government" that is "ruling" as well?
When international publications are prone to such follies, how can our own journals, with their treasure trove of "Indianisms" lag behind? With annoying regularity, one gets to read about the "ruling BSP government in Uttar Pradesh" or the "ruling BJP government in Gujarat"? It has, perhaps, never occurred to the editorial staff of newspapers and magazines that a party can be called a ruling party only if it is in power! One wonders whether they are aware of the nuances like while talking about developments in the ruling party one ought to say "ruling BSP" or "ruling BJP" but when referring to the government itself, it has to be the "BSP/BJP government". Alternatively, "regime" could be used in place of "government". But saying "ruling" and "government" in the same breath makes no sense.
Another example of superfluous usage of adjectives comes to mind wherein a "tangle" is referred to and the reader is also additionally told that the tangle is "vexed" as well! Any discerning reader would remember having come across "vexed Kashmir tangle" and "vexed Ayodhya tangle". It does not require one to be a genius to understand that a tangle seizes to be a tangle if it seizes to be vexed! Hence we can have a "vexed issue" or simply a "tangle" but not a "vexed tangle".
There is a strong likelihood of some people getting rankled about this objection to improper use of adjectives and adverbs. "What is the fuss?", they might ask. However, in times when hopes for a better future are hinged in a large degree on advancements in communication technology, the basic element of communication - the word, written or spoken - can not be overlooked. Proper usage of words is not just for the purists' delight. It is essential to ensure that what one is saying does not lend itself to much misinterpretation. Misinterpretation can not be completely ruled out in any communication but judicious use of words can go a long way in reducing its possibility.