Sunday, March 1, 2009

The (ubiquitous) shit

Now, I am a biology chap, but I do get irked by cliches floating around me. One came to my attention a couple of days back.

I was working quietly on my cell bio homework in the computer lab when this chum of mine exclaimed: "I am the shit!!!" Indeed, he seemed quite pleased with the idea. Now, to a literal mind like mine, there can be nothing very salubrious about being a segment (or even a pile) of excrement. I fell into a bit of a quandary.

Now, prepositions were probably devised keeping human experience in mind. For instance, if you say that you went to Schenectady (place chosen for its absurd name) in 2009, you could imagine that time is considered the 4th dimension so in some absurd way you could actually be IN 2009. This doesn't always work since human experience and perception isn't always universal. For instance, we Indians fill IN forms whereas I constantly find myself filling OUT forms in the US. Similarly, the whole world stands in line (probably assuming that the row of people is the line) whereas New Yorkers insist on standing ON line (the assumption probably being that they're standing on a stretch of land that's linear). Anyway, for the most part prepositions are based off human experience (the rest are absolutely arbitrary). Surely, I thought, there must be some such logic behind slangs and colloquialisms. I charged on cavalierly and naively to think that these would be consistent as well.

Now, if you claim to be "The Shit", one would naturally suppose that you desire to express that you possess the qualities of the object. One of those, is the distinct lack of a pleasant fragrance. Not to put too fine a point on it, but shit stinks. Now, here's where I fell into a bottomless pit of confusion. Most people normally say something "stinks" when it's not to their liking. So why would you want to be "the shit"? For one, you'd be constantly hitting the fan. Although, I suppose since ceiling fans are rarer in the states than in India, it's considerably safer being "the shit" in the US.

Lest someone interprets these comments as distinctly anti-American. I'd like to point out that some british slangs also make no sense to me. The best instance is the usage of the word "bollocks". Now, this is normally used when things aren't going your way. For those who don't know, this word is a slang for testicles. I suppose that's ok since people the world over seem to be obsessed with this structure of male anatomy.

In India, a testicle is coarsely referred to as dice. Last I checked, the dice I used for board games was cuboidal so perhaps Indians need to study anatomy or visit the nearest plastic surgeon. Similarly, Americans (regardless of gender) never tire of asseverating that they have the 'balls' to attempt some feat of dare-devilry or another. It makes you wonder why women don't claim to have the ovaries to do XYZ. Anyhow, I am meandering. The brits aren't satisfied with merely having the 'bollocks' to do xyz. They have to have the 'dog's bollocks' for feats of bravado. For a medically minded fellow, the idea is a bit vexing. Do the British constantly ponder getting a testicular xenograft from a dog? The thought is rather macabre, wouldn't you agree?

In the end, I feel a bit cheated. The things is, to appear normal in society I am forced to use some senseless slangs. For instance, I have to ask (in some irritation): "What is this shit?" when I clearly know that it isn't shit. Why, I ask myself, did I spend years mastering English and reading the works of PG Wodehouse to whom I owe my (perhaps antiquated) vocabulary. I ought to have listened to music from "da [neighbour]hood" to better prepare me for communication in this modern world.

I remember the words of this british cove who said: "I know two slang words: swell and lousy. I think swell is lousy." I agree.