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If We Stick Too Hard to the Rules of English Usage

If We Stick Too Hard_shutterstock_134891141

I have always been critical of my English miss who insisted in my school days that a singular pronoun such as ‘everyone’ cannot be the antecedent of a plural possessive pronoun such as ‘their’. I would get a big red cross if, for example, I wrote, ‘The teacher asked every student in the classroom to raise their right hand’.The correct usage according to Nesfield or Wren & Martin, she would crossly remind me, is ‘The teacher asked every student in the classroom to raise his right hand’, or ‘The teacher asked all the students in the classroom to raise their right hands’.

‘But, miss’, I would protest, ‘what about the girls in this classroom…and also, miss, all the students here have only one right hand’.

‘Don’t be impudent with me, kid, and just do as the grammar books show you how’, she would retort, and then swagger back to her blackboard.1

When I became a magazine writer, my chief editor, of true vintage breeding from Eton, was adamant that the correct way to punctuate a sentence was to put the unquote mark invariably after the period. Look at this strange specimen:

The accountant’s name is John, but his colleagues call him ‘Frog.’

That is how the chief editor wanted me to punctuate it. I told him it was illogical, because the period was not meant for Frog but as a full stop for the whole sentence. The chief editor wouldn’t budge a dot.

‘Respect the King’s English’, he reminded me.

I raised my eyes towards the ceiling and said ‘Long live the King!’

The chief wasnt amused at my gesture of exasperation.

‘When you’, he boomed, ‘become the chief editor, you may mutate your sentences any way you want. For now, do it the way I want’.

And so, suppressing my deep sense of irrationality, I continued to write many sentences the way he wanted, until I made my escape from that publishing company and finally landed at a spot where I am finally the chief editor…heh, heh, now I can write the way I want and who can stop me.

Only one party, though – the majority of my readers. I am writing for them. Only they will decide what’s the best usage for them. So far nobody has complained. If 51 percent of my readers say that I can only bat an eyelid, and not the hair on my brow, or complain about the way I use my commas, or, insist that I should never split the infinitive – I promise to immediately change…I mean, I promise immediately to change.

When tradition is adhered to merely for tradition’s sake, we get a whole lot of stagnated and ossified structures – in language, in fashion, in product design, in teaching methods, in management.

I have before me a book written a few generations ago in the English that was the correct and modern usage then, and deviation from which by any student at that time would have been met with the sternest reprimand from his teachers. Here is a sentence from that book:

‘So, if we building upon their foundation that went before vs, and being holpen by their labours, doe endeavor to make that better which they left so good; no man, we are sure, hath cause to mislike vs.’2

We can make some sense of it if we struggle to decipher the meaning. But it was the best English in the sight of our forefathers.

My point is, the English that we speak and write today would appear as quaint as the sentence above if we keep insisting that the language rules we inherited from our teachers are always the best and the correct ones.

If you are a teacher reading this, try some new unconventional ways to use the English language in your classes. If you are a student, go on and create something fresh in your language usage, but keep such innovations outside your test papers – your examiners may not be as experimental-minded as you are.

So, if we, building on the good foundation that our teachers left us, being helped by what they taught us with much labor, endeavor to make it even better, no one, we can be sure, would have cause to dislike us.


Pappa Joseph


1 Despite the teacher’s stern rebuke about the use of ‘their’ with a singular pronoun, it is now officially accepted and even recommended by many English language authorities, including Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (see entry ‘everybody’; can be viewed online).

2 The old English quote is by the translators of the King James Bible in their introduction to this version.




Do You Use ‘Their’ to Refer to ‘He’? Superb!

Courtesy: Tom Jolliffe

Courtesy: Tom Jolliffe

Which one of the following constructions would you use in your communications?

1. The person who excels in his/her work shall rise above the ranks of the mediocre.
2. Somebody has left behind his or her umbrella in the hall.
3. The ordinary user of English has no clue about their use of pronouns.

It’s not enough that a professional uses English with grammar textbook correctness. They must adapt their language to changing trends in usage. Sadly, we see examples of outdated usages, ineffective construction, and outright grammatical timidity on websites and in printed literature – in newspapers, in press releases, company communications, corporate brochures, etc.

The chairman of a globally renowned organization, with which I was once closely associated, was publicly annoyed when one of his employees announced over the public address system:

‘Somebody has left their car lights on in the basement parking’.

Being in charge of an organization that took exceptional pride in its quality consciousness in all facets of its activities, the chairman rebuked the employee for his sloppy English usage and told him to stick to the accepted pronoun ‘his’ or ‘her’ the next time he made such announcements.

J.C. Nesfield, Wren and Martin, Roger Fowler and other august grammarians long diseased, I mean, deceased, also would have frowned in their graves if such usage had reached their ears.

But what the chairman didnt know was that reputable writers have used ‘they, them, themselves, their’ to refer to singular nouns and pronouns such as ‘someone, person, individual, he’ since the 1300s! For example, in 1759, the Earl of Chesterfield wrote, ‘If a person is born of a gloomy temper, they cannot help it’. Since then, many great writers, including George Bernard Shaw, have also used this construction, much to the chagrin of traditional highbrow English purists. The practice can be found in such respected publications as The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

But when writers still shy away from using ‘they’ to refer to a singular antecedent, it is usually out of unthinking obeisance to what they have been taught in school concerning agreement of pronouns.

Compounding their sense of timidity is the powerful influence upon their consciences of authoritative panels on language usage set up by Oxford and other universities. According to one report I read, one such official English Usage Panel rejected the use of ‘they’ with singular antecedents as ungrammatical. 82 percent of the panel found the sentence

‘The typical student in the program takes about six years to complete their course work’

as unacceptable.

Interestingly enough, panel members seem to make a distinction between singular nouns (such as the typical student and a person) and pronouns that are grammatically singular but semantically plural (such as anyone, everyone, no one). 64 percent of the panel members accept the sentence ‘No one is willing to work for those wages anymore, are they?’

There’s one other consideration, one which the earlier mentioned chairman might have overlooked. His employee, not knowing whether the car belonged to a male or female colleague, might have wisely decided to neuter the construction.

At the beginning of this article, I wrote,

‘It’s not enough that a professional uses English fluently. They must adapt their language to…’

not only because I consider it semantically plural, but because I didnt want to risk annoying my female readers. Until such time the English language gives birth to a neutral pronoun which can be used with ‘manager, businessperson, somebody’, etc, I am going to play it safe and stick to ‘they’ and ‘their’ in such constructions.

Here are a few examples of differing usages relating to antecedents such as ‘person, customer, child’ etc, taken from a random selection of newspapers and magazines in the region. I can understand if a writer prefers one or the other of the usages, but what is unprofessional about some of them is that they are plainly inconsistent in their usage.

‘This is why an average investment consultation is likely to take more than an hour, to enable me to find out exactly what the client wants and, perhaps more importantly, what are his/her views with regard to risk.’   Arabian Business

The writer has played it safe, but ‘his/her’ ugly use of the slash has made his/her sentence stick out like a sore thumb/toe.

‘A person may not offer car driving lessons unless he/she is qualified and licensed by the Traffic Department’.   Gulf News

But then in the same column, the writer switches sides:

‘The reader should demand his dues before they lapse after the period of limitation of one year’.

Here’s an gender insensitive piece of writing:

‘This would also strengthen the relationship between parent and child without having the parent assume the youngster’s responsibilities, thereby denying him or her the chance to grow.’   Friday Magazine

So far so good for all relationships. But on the next page, the writer alienates all parents whose only child is a daughter by writing:

‘One reason why a child likes to test his parents’ rules is for the child to get what he wants.’

Customer insensitive:

‘To the customer, a programme is of no value if he can’t get what he wants from points earned.’   Gulf Business

Perhaps that company doesn’t have many female customers.

However, some other publications in the region put their pronouns to fair use.

‘Our main endeavor is to provide a first class customer experience at value for money prices to encourage the customer to return to us for their future rental requirements.’   Fleet Auto Middle East
‘It is important to do this, so you can control the options the user gets and hide the functions that they do not need.’   Arabian Computer News
‘This however puts everyone in the same bag, whether they don’t inflate their circulation at all or they multiply their actual print-run by 10 or more.’   Gulf Marketing Review


Pappa Joseph




Doodling About Noodles in Malaysia

There is so much to see and slurp around in this happy, yummy land.



The word piped in from the cubicle adjacent to mine. And that is one item in the English vocabulary that perks up my ears, props up my seat, and peps up my limbs without fail whenever I hear it. I stood on my chair and peered over the partition. Mrs Hanson looked up and smiled.

‘Slick noodles oozing dark soy sauce’, effused my neighbor. ‘I will go to Malaysia again just to slurp them once more.’

Mrs Hanson had visited Southeast Asia a few months earlier, and of all the impressions that she carried back home the strongest was the one that had smacked her tastebuds and sensory glands with a mighty wallop of stringy flavors. Never had she encountered a gastronomic experience such as the one that swamped her senses when she was served the oozy noodles in the alleys of Malaysia’s several chinatowns.

Knowing that I would be heading towards the same region in the next few weeks, she gave me a few tips on how best to enjoy my visit. I told her I would not miss the noodles at any cost, and got down from my chair.

By the time I landed in Kuala Lumpur and was heading toward my hotel, my resolution to savor at first opportunity the dish that had swept Mrs Hanson off her tongue was shoved to the back of my mind. I was here to have a good time, and my first wish now was to visit one of the 200 charming islets I had read so much about, and to plunge into the waters around them, splash about till my limps grew weary, and then go lie on the sparkling white sands under a swaying palm (no risk of a coconut falling on my nut – there were nets tied directly under the bunch of coconuts on every tree.)

What’s unique about some of these islets is that they are still mostly virgin territory, a rare treat in a world where almost all the beautiful natural spots in a country are overtrodden by lascivious tourists.

Malaysia’s tiny blobs of land a few miles off the main coastland are an explorer’s dream of Eden recreated. They seem like they came into being when a cosmic splash broke up a huge paradise into little green gems bobbing in blue waters.

The beaches on these islets are fringed with gently swaying palms leaning toward the mighty sea in obeisance – a sight which attracts tourists on passing-by cruiseliners with more alluring power than that of a half-naked siren on whaleback in the middle of the ocean. These beaches that nature had so generously overlaid with pristine soft sand are a pleasure to walk and play on and be half-buried in.

The azure waters lapping over soft coral reefs about 50 meters away are a splish-splashy delight for swimmers and snorkelers. Got the picturecard image in your mind? Now add a quaint fishing hamlet of thatched dwellings to that image, and you have visualized an idyllic destination that is probably unsurpassed in its natural attractions by any other spot in the Far East.

The tropical climate ensures a weather that ranges from comfortably warm to bearably hot all year round; at the same time it also means you can be caught wet any time by a sudden short burst of the frequent showers. But if you wish, when the weather seems to be getting too sultry for your skin’s liking, you can quickly head for one of the several mist-shrouded hills.

There you can hire a bungalow located in the midst of a dense rainforest. From within its safe confines you can often enjoy the sight of wildlife foraging with their own kind, and sometimes, feeding on other kind. The foraging kind include bears, tapirs, orangutans, elephants, pangolins, mousedeers, and more, while the preying ones usually are the tigers and leopards. At least one overcurious bungalow denizen has gone missing in big cat territory. So don’t trek alone in the forest.

Where it is safe to trek with a guide, take along a machete…not to protect yourself. On many of the jungle paths you will have to cut your passage through dense creepers and undergrowth. If you trek in the right places, you may even come across one of nature’s most amazing sights – the world’s largest, and stinkiest, flower – the rafflesia. In full bloom it measures three feet in diameter!

Another of Malaysia’s attractions are its limestone hills and caves. If you are not claustrophobic, and not allergic to bat droppings, I would strongly urge you to peep into a few of these caves. They are treasure chambers of mystery and natural wonders. The stalagmites and stalactites here are reputed to grow at such monstrous pace that if you watch their tips carefully, you can actually see them growing before your eyes!

Some of these caves have never yet been fully explored to its full depth. A few contain sculptures and other evidences of ancient human habitation. In one of the caves that I went in, I saw a packet of shelled peanuts alongside some incense sticks. Being somewhat hungry, and assuming some earlier tourist had dropped it, I picked the packet up and started munching the nuts as I continued to explore the dark cavern.

After my return to the UAE, when I told Mrs Hanson about my nutty cave discovery, she gasped. ‘You took the food offered to the ancestors of some Chinese tourist! There is a strong belief that one who desecrates the food of the gods will go hungry for the next seven days. Did you?’ she asked. ‘Nope’, I said. I suppose a religious gaffe committed in a twinge of hunger in a foreign land is something no ancestor can take offense at.

No, I did not starve for the next seven days. Instead, for more than a week, I enjoyed the world’s most succulent, the most slippery, and the most slurp-worthy dish in gastronomical history, or at least in my gastrointestinal history – the truly authentic Hakka noodles prepared by the verily genuine Chinese chefs whose ancestors really came from the actual shanty avenues of Canton. I suppose no noodles anywhere else can match this height of authenticity and sheer flavor. More of that a little later.

Malaysia’s attraction is enhanced by its three main ethnic groups, Malay, Chinese, Indian, each providing visitors with its own entertainment, history, culture and cuisine. Experiencing the different cuisines is a trek through adventurous culinary woods where you encounter sweet, sour, salty, spicy and fiery surprises and shockers. Here are a few your senses should not be deprived of:

Malay – nasi goring (fried rice), ayam goring (with chicken), nasi lemak (coconut rice with anchovies, peanuts and curry); Chinese – local soups, hainan (chicken), and especially mee (wheat and rice noodles) served in various choices of thickness, lengths and flavors; Indian – rice on a banana leaf, with your choice of curries and chutneys, masala dosai (a kind of rolled pancake), biriyani (spiced rice with chicken or mutton), tandooris (oven baked flat bread).

As for choice of setting, you may dine out at the open-air stalls of the night hawkers, where, under a softly humming petromax lantern, you can sit and enjoy the freshly cooked chowmeins and chopsueys, and keep on ordering and eating them, if you wish, till the mee hours of the morning, which is a couple of hours before sunrise.

On another day or night, you may opt for a sidewalk Chinese café. And it is here in one of those cafes that I suddenly remembered my colleague’s words…when the first sauce-dripping string slid down my esophagus, and the stunning flavor and aroma awoke every sensory bud in my body to a glorious chorus of ‘hurrah!’ She was right. I think I too would make another trip to Malaysia even if it is solely for the purpose of savoring again what I just did.

Later, I tried to have a repeat of the experience in a starred hotel, but nothing happened. The noodles there tasted like any you get in a good Chinese restaurant in other countries – it’s ok, but nothing to salivate about. Something was missing in the slithery stuff you get in the grand hotels and posh eateries. Perhaps it’s the tincture of the sweat of the humble cooks in the sidewalk cafes, whose one aim in life seems to be to give you the very best they can concoct with all their heart for your mouth’s ecstasy.

Now I consider myself something of a connoisseur when it comes to noodles. Wherever in the world I travel to, I make sure I visit at least one Chinese restaurant in the city I am in. I have had noodles prepared in Dubai by ‘Chinese’ chefs from Lebanon, in Cairo by Cantonese ‘natives’ who strangely looked very natively Egyptian to me, in Calcutta’s Chinatown by genuine fourth-generation Chinese cooks who, in their homes, daily have chapattis for lunch, speak Bengali as their mother-tongue and couldn’t even count upto 10 in their great-grandfather’s language. The noodles they prepare has little in common with the noodles you get in the sidewalks of Malaysia. In Chinese restaurants in India, for example, noodles is invariably served with a lavish proportion of carrots, cabbage and lentils, all of which are anathema to any authentic dish of noodles. In Dubai and Cairo, noodles is arabized with kebabs, which camouflages the taste for which you ordered the noodles in the first place.

So, now I know, if anytime I am overwhelmed by a desire to savor noodles in all its true flavors, there is only one place in the universe I need to book a flight to.

After one has wallowed in noodles to his gut’s content, there are three other lesser, but unforgettable, sensory encounters in Malaysia he shouldnt miss – two for the palate and one for the soles. Along with noodles, nowhere else in the world can you enjoy these encounters in the intensity of the gustatory, olfactory and tactile sensations as they are offered in this peninsula.

The first is a drink I used to enjoy to the utmost in my boyhood days in Malaysia. It is called ‘chendoul’ – a glassful of greenish brown milky liquid with green strings of vermicelli floating in it. You wouldnt find it in any restaurant, but only in the side alleys of the older parts of the town. Nothing in liquid form has so delighted the nerve endings from the tip of my tongue down to the bottom of my belly like chendoul. There are a couple of corollary drinks available with the chendoul vendor, and you should attempt to try them all at different times, but you may find none as deliciously titillating as the greenish elixir.

Then, of course, there is the durian. Nobody I know who has encountered the durian has a passive view of it. They either hate it with all the might of their nostrils, or they love it enough to cross oceans for it. To the former, the smell of durian is shockingly very close to that of hydrogen sulphide seeping through a crack in a rotten egg. To the latter, the durian’s whiff is enough to make them drop every other activity they were engrossed in, and rush to the source of the seducing aroma. The taste is even more potent – toxic to the durian hater, tonic to the lover.

Don’t try to rip open a durian yourself; get a native to do it for you, because the fruit, no matter how delicious inside, has the most dangerously spiked skin among nature’s conceptions.

I cannot close my thoughts on Malaysia without mentioning the third encounter, which, in the area of tactile sensation, is undoubtedly the most soul satisfying and sole soothing experience you can ever get as a traveler anywhere on good earth.

As you stroll on some of the busy sidewalks of Kuala Lumpur, especially in Jalan Ismail or Jalan Bukit Bintang, keep an eye out for rows of stools and people sitting on the pavement beside them. If you can find a vacant stool, go quickly and sit on it. And here, for about US$ 2 or 3, a local practitioner will begin his one-hour session on your tired soles. Each pressure of the practitioner’s finger on a vital point on the bare bottom of your limb sends an out-of-this-world sensation shooting all the way down to the depths of your soul and up to the top of your scalp and out from the tips of your ear lopes. The hour often includes a little shoulder time, too.


Malaysia is not a nation as plentiful and diverse in its natural attractions as China or India, but it proves the far more attractive destination on several counts, of which noodles is numero uno.


Pappa Joseph




Bracing Yourself for the Jolt Factor

Bracing Yourself Jolt Factor _shutterstock_24814552

There is a place in a man’s body that is known as the J-Spot. It is more pronounced in a man than in a woman, I think, and, unlike the G-Spot, has far-reaching and lethal consequences. But, ooooh, if someone touches that spot in a person, it would send jolts so strong it would reverberate through his nerves, shatter his mental frame, and set his emotions aflame.

I have taken a long holiday from my workplace in Dubai and returned as a guest teacher at my old school where I had served as vice principal about 25 years ago.

Last evening, Chris, a student in 12th grade, came to my room and showed me his clean-shaven scalp. This was the second time he was showing me his pate in the last two days.

‘What happened to your tattoo?’ I asked him.

‘The principal saw it and he told me not to enter the campus until I removed it.’

He said it with a forlorn look like that of a kid who had lost a cherished marble.

Chris had an intricate tattoo tonsured through his close-cropped hair by his barber a few days earlier. I was one of the first persons he showed it to, bowing his head with pride to reveal the mystic design on his scalp. The top of his head appeared to me like a miniature version one of the cornfields in UK where crop circles appear overnight from nowhere.

When I first saw it, it gave me a mild jolt. But by now I have grown seasoned enough to deal with the Jolt Factor before it affects my J-Spot. In fact, after seeing Chris with his new look a couple of times, I have sort of come to like it on him.

But the principal had his J-Spot jolted and he was fuming. And the only way Chris could remove the J-Factor and stay on campus was to clean-shave his scalp.

‘Don’t let it bother you too much’, I tried to console him. ‘In about two weeks’ time your head won’t be shining so much.’

Many good things in life are at first impression, or first smell, or first taste, revolting. Blue cheese stank like putrefied lizard when my nostrils first encountered it. Now it’s among my favorite delicacies. At first, my long hair drew catcalls from my village bumpkins in the early 70s; ten years later I had short hair and the bumpkins were wearing long flowing hair. Their J-Spot had been jabbed so often by the sight of ‘hippies’ – the generic name in our land in those days for people who didnt visit the barber every month – coming down from the cities that the locals became desensitized to the phenomenon, even to the point they themselves began embracing on their head what they had once winced at on others.

‘First whiskies seem revolting; first Shakespeare sonnets seem meaningless; first Bach fugues a bore; first differential equations sheer torture. But in due course, contact with an obscurely beautiful poem, an elaborate piece of counterpoint, or of mathematical reasoning, causes us to feel direct intuitions of beauty and significance.’   Sidney Piddington

Accepting the Jolt Factor often turns out to be like a fantasy ride on a futuristic space ship. You are about to land on an alien planet with strange and uneven terrain, and the ship can land only with a heavy screeching jolt. But once you brace yourself for the impact, and it passes through you, you see the door opening and a most fascinating vista beyond it beckoning you to explore and enjoy it.


Pappa Joseph




Are You Afraid of the Fourice?

My former company driver was also our mailman. He communicated with his colleagues in a language that was half pidgin English and half what sounded like pigeon talk. That day he had been extra busy taking bundles of magazines to the post office.

‘How many times did you go to the post office today to mail the magazines?’ I asked him at the end of the day. ‘Twice? Thrice?’

‘Fourice’, he answered without batting a hair of his brow.

I was speechless for a few seconds – first, at the crassness of his usage, secondly, at the novelty of the word, and then suddenly at the wonderful discovery of a usage that opened up to me a whole new and limitless set of beneficial words.

Photo of the actual person who first used the word 'fourice' and who thereby introduced me to a whole new series of English words.

Photo of the actual person who first used the word ‘fourice’ and who thereby introduced me to a whole new series of English words.

English usage is one of the most sensitive subjects on this planet. Nothing on earth, for example, will ever persuade the British to sacrifice their u’s in their colours and their parlours, and the Americans would recoil at the thought of doubling the l’s in their traveling and labeling. But to accommodate their cousins across the Atlantic Ocean, the British, on the initiative of the Oxford editors, agreed among themselves to have at least one word in their vocabulary changed from a double ‘l’ to a single ‘l’. So, they chose ‘enroll’ and made its official spelling with one ‘l’: enrol. It was a most generous concession – considering the British’s affection for the extraneous letter – a friendly gesture to the concise-minded Americans.

Now, the goodwill vibes somehow traversed the ocean and reached the American shores. So around the same time the British were thinking about sacrificing an ‘l’ for their cousins, the Americans were having the same accommodative thoughts about the British.

The lexicographers, led by Noah Webster, gathered together and decided to dedicate one word in honor of their cousins. And from among the hundreds of thousands of choices before them, guess which word they finally agreed upon? Enrol. So the Americans, as a token of honor to their highly-lettered cousins across the ocean, accepted to carry the burden of an extra ‘l’ in their enroll.

It was only when the latest editions of the Webster and Oxford dictionaries appeared in the market did both the nations realize their O Henry kind of situation. Too late to recall their national lexicographs from the market, they let the words remain as they were in their respective dictionaries to this very day.

Which is why in the United Arab Emirates new students have to enroll in the American schools while in the institutions that follow the British curriculum they need to just enrol. (Maybe someone could make a film out of this episode in Anglo-American relations, and title it ‘American History XL’.*)

Noah Webster

Noah Webster

I have digressed a lot. Coming back to fourice, many a time in my writing life I have been stumped by the deficiency in the English vocabulary and the inefficiency in English usage. Consider this sentence, for example:

‘Parenting begins long before your precious child is conceived in the womb of his or her mother. And the kind of parent you have been to him or her long before he or she was born affects your child long after his/her birth.’

Have the British or the American grammarians, lexicographers, etymologists and linguists ever found a solution to their ugly language usages typified by the example above. They haven’t in the last half a millennium, and they arent going to for many centuries more.

It is not just deformed usages that our language authorities are guilty of overlooking. Superfluity is another of their lapses.

‘A good portion of the grain stacked in the public godowns are socked with rat urine. Every time you cook rice, you should take extra care to rinse it, not the usual twice or thrice recommended in the cookbooks, but at least four or five times to be assured it’s thoroughly cleansed of the vermin’s nuisance.’

Until my encounter with the pidgin English user, I would have let that sentence leave my editorial desk unchanged. Now, if I were to edit or write a similar sentence I would boldly do away with the prosaic word ‘times’ and just ‘ice’ the numbers. Efficient, sensible, logical, and economical – less two superfluous words.

Recently, I went for a prostate checkup. When the urologist asked me how many times I visited the bathroom in the night, I answered him, ‘at least thrice or fourice’.

‘What?’ uttered the befuddled doctor.

‘I mean, three or four times’. I knew from the look on his face the doctor wasnt ready for the ice thing yet.

‘I think you are going to need a prostate operation’, he answered.

Today, as I write this, I am minus a big chunk of my prostate, but I have been compensated with a much bigger hunk of an addition in my English usage – fourice, fivice, sixice…ad infinitice.


Pappa Joseph 


* American History X is one of the most unforgettable films produced in that country, depicting the chain-reaction of violence spawned by racism.




An Imperial Legacy of Idiotic English

An-Imperial-Legacy-1 One of the starting motivators for writing my book ‘Idiotic English and Idiomatic English’ – the first little pebble that rolled from the mountaintop of my musings, which set off bigger pieces until the avalanche of boulders was unstoppable till I reached the last word of this book – was a signboard I saw in my once British governed hometown. Ever since I read what was written on it – ‘Sewing Machines – All Are Repairing Here’ – I have been suffering, for 25 years now, from sporadic attacks of imagery in which a dozen or so sewing machines, each bent over an abused portion from one of their own kith, are busily repairing it, all the while exchanging naughty jokes among themselves, as most clumps of workers in confined workshops in my part of the world are prone to do.

Since then, I have seen far greater evidence of my people’s colonial legacy of idiotic English that only unempathetic imperialist teachers could have been responsible for – they to whom idiomatic English flowed out of their mouths as easily as mother milk flowed in once, while they themselves amused one another with ever newer creations of idiosyncratic expressions which eventually was officially enforced as ‘idiomatic’ English in the curriculum of the colonial schools, but which only served to further confound, confuse and contort the tender language sensibilities of obliging local learners of the language. Idiomatic English is but idiotic English widely impressed on impressionable minds.

But patience was shown its limits at least on some rare occasions of bold resistance. I recall my mother proudly narrating the story of how the Maharaja of Cochin (who reigned during my grandparents’ days) once hired the services of a sahib (‘white man’) tutor. The lessons went smoothly enough, until the tutor unwisely taught his majesty that ‘put’ was pronounced as it is still pronounced today and ‘cut’ was pronounced as it is still idiotically pronounced today. No way, insisted the maharaja. If p-u-t is poot, then c-u-t is coot, he rightly reasoned. The sahib kept insisting it was not so…until the king lost his patience and the tutor…oh no, the tutor didn’t lose his head, that decision could be made only by the British governor of the state; moreover, kings in our land were not as prone to take people’s heads off as the kings of England enjoyed doing to their subjects, and the subjects of France enjoyed doing to their kings, as our school history books say. The tutor was just hustled out of the royal court and forbidden to enter the palace from that day on.

Kerala Varma Maharaja of Kochi (1870 - July 1948), popularly known as Aikya Keralam Thampuran or Kerala Varma VII was the Maharaja of Cochin who ruled between 1946 and 1947. He made a clarion call and through his patriotism defied the diktats of the imperialist rulers, even at the threat of dethronement.

Kerala Varma Maharaja of Kochi (1870 – July 1948), popularly known as Aikya Keralam Thampuran or Kerala Varma VII was the Maharaja of Cochin who ruled between 1946 and 1947. He made a clarion call and through his patriotism defied the diktats of the imperialist rulers, even at the threat of dethronement.

Sometimes idiotic expressions are put to perpetual desolation by indignant locals. One white colonial teacher told his rows of gibbering adult students that they could talk the hind legs off a donkey. Donkeys were not in the same divine class as brahmin heifers, but donkeys were a venerated genre nevertheless. One or two village idiots scratched their heads. Then the gibbering stopped, replaced by a menacing calm. For many of the recruited learners of the King’s English, attending the night classes on the incentive of being eligible for extra rations of the whiteman’s roti, had reached the grade where they could sufficiently understand what ‘hind legs’ and what ‘off’ and what ‘donkey’ meant. Pandemonium ensued, and it was only the intervention of the farmer who supplied his goat’s milk to the teacher every morning that saved the King’s English user from having at least his hind limbs torn off him.

In this living stream of communications, it’s time we took up the sieving pans for ourselves, probe through the murky waters and fling the ugly verbal lumps of dead algae gently over the fence back into the Englishman’s compound, while pocketing the glowing nuggets. If we do that we will within a generation or so be left with a clarified and crystal pure stream of language flowing through our own lands, and from which we can gurgle and gulp living waters of delight any time we want.


Pappa Joseph




The Supreme Gift For Your Child’s Education


Do you remember at least two of the main history lessons you learned in Grade 6? Or the molecular structure of ethyl alcohol that you chemistry teacher took so much pain to teach you in Grade 8? Or yet, the five kinds of Interrogative Pronoun that your English miss instilled in your teenage brain? I don’t, and I think most of you reading this dont either. The only knowledge from school that has stood me in good stead in my adult life is learning to read, write and count. Everything else, I mean literally everything else, has served me no purpose at all in my job search and career development.

But the way our primary school teachers and our parents put their whole being into ensuring that we did remember them – by means of tests, exams, grueling homework, and punishments – it did seem to us at that time that if we didnt remember those historical facts, dates, formulas, and grammatical technicalities, we were doomed for an adult life of failure in a rat-eat-cat world.

I regret to say this: most of those teachers who believed a student’s success lay in mastering schoolbook facts and formulas have continued to remain in the same station in their professional lives as they were when they taught us those now-forgotten lessons. How many of them have risen out of their current workpit to go on to become well-respected educationists in their community or country, or set up reputable institutions themselves? A very few have, but the overwhelming majority of them remained in their mediocre station in life, continuing to pass on quickly-forgotten knowledge each year to a new batch of young vulnerable minds.

It’s not just that what children learn in their schoolhood is forgotten within a few years after they bid farewell to their alma mater; many of the lessons they learn as immutable facts of life today become obsolete by the time they begin their lives as professionals. The grammar rules and language usage lessons become obsolete (the idiocy of English usage as taught in schools is one reason I have included the section ‘Change Your English, Change The World‘ in this website, for promoting reformation in this language), the methodologies and technologies are replaced with more innovative processes, insights and solutions that seemed so revolutionary and effective are condemned as inadequate and even dangerous as newer understanding is gained.

So what can you as a parent do to give your child a schoolhood that will continue to be an influential factor all his or her adult life? It’s a profound subject I will continue to cover in this site.

But let me say this now: above all else, instead of focusing on the knowledge that your child is forced to feed on in school today, put your whole mind into ensuring that he or she acquires a love of learning, and a desire and ability to acquire knowledge on their own.

You do it by leading them to interesting experiences; by spending time with them, not by just helping them do homework but by hobbying with them; by never rebuking them for missing facts in textbooks, but praising them for any skill or knowledge they gained on their own through your encouragement and guidance. That’s the supreme gift you can give them during their school days.

May your children whom you are now encouraging to love learning and acquire knowledge by themselves, fondly remember in their adulthood how wisely you had laid the foundation for them to not only acquire the knowledge and skills for their success in life, but more importantly, to gain the true understanding of how to be a great parent and spouse themselves.


Pappa Joseph




When You Should Ignore the Counsel of Parenting Experts


In all relationships, except one, you have to grow in love over the years. When a young man falls in love with a woman, that love is only a small fraction of the bond that he will have for her when she is his wife. In fact, their love for each other doesnt reach full bloom until years after they first met.

Frankly, when I fell in love with my wife, I sincerely believed I loved her so much I couldnt love her more. 35 years later we feel that our love in the first decade of our relationship was just a tiny grain of emotion compared to what we feel for each other now.

But that’s not how we feel about our children. We feel that we have always loved them to totality from the first day they entered our lives.

You see, parent’s love is instinctive. Especially mother’s. You dont have to teach a new mother how to love her child. The moment she beholds the pinkish piece of newborn life beside her, her whole being swells with tenderness and an overriding desire to protect her child at any cost. The love is full blown and complete from the very first day.

So Whoever placed that instinctive love within her, can certainly be expected to place within her the basics of caring for her child too.

A mother knows by instinct what’s best for her child in the core areas of the little one’s life. And if there are areas where she is not so knowledgeable about, her mother – the child’s grandma – pitches in with her own experience. That’s why grandparents should be such a vital part of parenting life.

Earlier generations of parents didn’t have a Baby & Child Care book to guide them, but they brought up a finer breed of citizens worldwide than what we generally come across today, despite the hosts of modern sychologists counseling them in every city.

I have seen, to the grief of my heart, pediatricians and childcare specialists strongly advising parents to condone certain habits in children (such as ‘playing’ with oneself), which if continued through the teen and young adulthood years, would surely turn their future marital relationship into a flaccid one.

I have mentioned this incident in another message, but let me narrate it again. At a recent parenting forum, a female child sychologist representing a highly esteemed child counsel center explained that an adolescent releasing his sexual tension was like a person soothing the area where a mosquito bit him. It is natural and not to be discouraged, she advised. One mother, who was sitting beside me, on hearing this, exclaimed, ‘What nonsense!’. Thank God for the maternal instinct.

These experts are excellent when prescribing what’s best for your child’s colic or fever, but oftentimes proffer deadly advice when it comes to your family’s moral values. There are exceptions of course, as rare as white ravens. If you know of such exceptional counselors anywhere, do let me know, and I will promote their services free through this website. They deserve it, being such a rare breed in their profession.

So when it comes to the essentials of caring for your child, trust your instincts more than the worldly counsel of child specialists. Heed their medical counsel as long as you innately know it doesn’t conflict with your Nature-given maternal feelings.

I hope that you, in choosing a parenting counselor for yourself, will find one who believes there are spiritual laws that supersede all the teachings they have acquired from the world’s materialistic, Creator-denying universities.


Pappa Joseph




The Wonder Years With Your Child


The wonder years of a child are those years in his life when everything new he encounters is a wonder experience for him. A new object, a new face, a new place, a new shape…the child is wholly fascinated by the sight, sound and feel of it. The wonder years starts from the time he is able to perceive the world around him – which he could from infancy – to about the beginning of the teen years. At teenage, the boy or girl enters another phase of life when they begin to discover the wonders of puberty and teenhood, and their wonderment at natural phenomena wanes.

The parent who uses the precious wonder years to guide and enhance their child’s fresh experiences of the world lays an excellent foundation for their son or daughter to continue enjoying the wonders of life and nature beyond childhood and into adulthood.

A sense of wonderment along with a sense of keen humor (not to be confused with the ability to be humorous) is among life’s very special blessings for those who have them. These two dispositions make one’s daily living colorful and cheerful. There is no room for boredom or monotony for the person who never ceases to wonder at God’s creation being replayed daily in nature’s various phenomena. Every time he beholds a new flower or scents a new fragrance, his sense of astonishment at the marvel of creation swamps his heart and he can’t help but burst out in praises to God for yet another amazing facet of his handiworks.

I have already mentioned in my book on parenting (see books section) about the benefits of exposing even the child in the womb to positive external stimuli by mom exposing herself to pleasant experiences during pregnancy.

When the child is born and his eyes and ears slowly learn to focus on objects and sounds, put colorful objects within sight of the baby. Beautiful music, melodious and uplifting, may be played for a little while in the background when the child is awake and in a playful mood. Don’t play music continually, or too often in a day, for music heard too long can be torturous even to adult ears.

When the child is old enough to handle objects, place childsafe objects of different shapes and colors within his reach.

Take your baby outdoors at least once daily, if possible. If there’s a park nearby, walk under the trees and among the plants and let your offspring’s eyes soak in the wonders around him. Point out a new creature – a cat, a bug, a bird. Show leaves and flowers at close quarters, so baby can learn to observe the marvel of design in nature.

As the child grows older, the parent should provide opportunities for his or her sense of wonderment to grow correspondingly in diversity and intensity. The mere color and shape of a leaf gives way to the sheer diversity of the plant kingdom. Simple handling of objects now becomes nimble molding of shapes with clay or sand. Generic music listening advances to specific musical preferences.

When your child is about three or four, take him on your shoulders outside the house on a star-spangled night. And there in the dark, point to the constellations above and show him for the first time in his life the twinkling wonders.

In the years my two sons and my daughter were growing up from childhood to teenhood before my very eyes, I have never got back the opportunity to speak to them the words that I had postponed speaking to them; I never once got back the opportunity to touch and hold their hands when I had thought I would hold them a little later when I was just done with a particular urgent work I was doing then; in all those years of parenting my children, I never once got back the chance to look again at the same facial expressions which longed to have my attention and speak to me.

Oh, yes, I did get the chance to speak and touch, and see many facial expressions at other times. But the ones I missed were unique. I long for them now, but I know I have lost them forever.

If I were a young parent again, every time my little child’s head pops up at my desk, while I am deeply engrossed in an important project work, instead of telling him I cannot come with him now to see that butterfly he discovered, I will sleep my computer and rush out with my five-year old child to see that new wonder in his life.

These wonder years in your child, this fascination in his eyes for everything you show him, or do with him, alas, lasts for so short a time that even before you could provide a fraction of the wonder experiences you had initially planned for your child, the years are forever gone, and you have now a self-willed tween staring back at you and wanting to go his or her own way.

The wonder years are so fleeting you need special help from God to fully redeem these years. Therefore, before your child’s wandering years begin, and your wondering time starts, may God help you to redeem every single day of the wonder years with your little son or daughter.


Pappa Joseph




Great Leaders Over Their Nations But Failures In Their Homes

‘Coronation of David’ in the Paris Psalter. David was a great king, and a greater failure as a father.

Among the greatest leaders mentioned in the Bible are also the greatest failures as fathers. That seems like an impossible paradox. How can a man be a faithful and effective leader to millions of his people, while he has utterly failed as a father and a husband in his home? But the strangeness of truth is that such paradoxes do happen commonly.

I haven’t taken a count yet, but it seems to me that there are more failed fathers and husbands among the Bible heroes than there are those who have successfully parented their children and happily spoused their wives.

The greatest failure as a father and a husband in the Bible is, in my opinion, King David. Is there any other leader whose many sons all turned out to be failures? The one seeming exception, Solomon, was an exception only in his younger days, for in old age he too became unfaithful. Worse, he fathered children who were even greater failures than his brothers.

The second greatest failure as a father, among the Bible greats, is Samuel. This man is so great in God’s sight that he is one of the two persons (the other is Moses) given special mention by God.

‘The Lord said to me: Even if Moses and Samuel were here, praying with you, I wouldn’t change my mind.’1

Now let’s hear what the Bible says about the outcome of Samuel’s parenting ways.

‘Samuel had two sons. The older one was Joel, and the younger one was Abijah. When Samuel was getting old, he let them be leaders at Beersheba. But they were not like their father. They were dishonest and accepted bribes to give unfair decisions. One day the nation’s leaders came to Samuel at Ramah and said, “You are an old man. You set a good example for your sons, but they haven’t followed it. Now we want a king to be our leader, just like all the other nations. Choose one for us!” ’2

The failure of Samuel as a father was the direct cause of Israel’s desiring a human king and rejecting God who had been directly reigning over his people and administering his justice through human ‘judges’ he appointed in each generation. Samuel was the last judge of Israel, the last representative of Israel’s theocracy – only because this great man did not have one good son to succeed him.

‘Samuel was upset to hear the leaders say they wanted a king, so he prayed about it. The Lord answered: Samuel, do everything they want you to do. I am really the one they have rejected as their king.’

Samuel’s childhood guardian, Eli, although not mentioned as a great leader, was nevertheless the judge over Israel prior to Samuel. His failure as a father caused the death of his two sons, which brought a tragic end to his own life.4

As in ancient Israel, many leaders in the present generation are so assiduously engaged in leading their people in governments and businesses that they don’t realize their home life is being seriously eroded.

Their children are bearing the brunt of paternal neglect, their wives are secretly sorrowing. And someone or something will have to give way in the family lives of such leaders sooner or later.

About three years ago I read of that greatest of evangelical celebrities, Benny Hinn’s divorce. A few months after his wife left him, Benny Hinn said on his show ‘This is your Day’, he was oftentimes ‘caught up with the ministry’ so much so that he forgot about his family.

‘I’ve made mistakes because I wasn’t the perfect husband and the perfect dad because I was always gone traveling the world,’ he remorsed. ‘That’s probably what broke the whole thing up.’

Hinn then told his viewers ‘not to neglect your family’, saying that the call of God should first touch the family.

Then recently the couple were reconciled, and I heard Hinn declaring on his show: “I always thought that it was God first, then his ministry, and then my family. Now I realize that it is God first, my family second, and then God’s work.”

Benny Hinn is fortunate to have a reconciliation with his family and the realization of the priorities in a minister’s life. But the tragedy is, too many other leaders have not realized what Hinn had to discover painfully. Too many of them are unintentionally causing great harm to their children’s syche. Too many of them are divorcing or having a bitter marriage. I could give many examples, but don’t think that is necessary. You could easily come across the stories of the tragic family lives of many greats in both the religious and secular worlds by an online search.

If a man desires to be a leader over a nation or a corporation, he should first prove his capability and earnestness by the way he rules his own household. This is a principle that applies even to those who seek a position of responsibility in the religious sphere.

‘It is true that anyone who desires to be a church official wants to be something worthwhile. That’s why officials must have a good reputation and be faithful in marriage. They must be self-controlled, sensible, well-behaved, friendly to strangers, and able to teach. They must not be heavy drinkers or troublemakers. Instead, they must be kind and gentle and not love money. Church officials must be in control of their own families, and they must see that their children are obedient and always respectful. If they don’t know how to control their own families, how can they look after God’s people?’5

So, leader, or aspiring leader, how faithful and successful have you been in the greatest aspect of your leadership – bringing up your children to become great parents themselves, and being a great husband to the woman you married?


Pappa Joseph 


1 Jeremiah 15:1
2 1 Samuel 8:1-5
3 1 Samuel 8:6-7
4 1 Samuel chapters 1-4
5 1 Timothy 3:1-5