Sunday, 1 July 2012

Of rules, flexibility and rigidity

Swami Nikhilaananda said:
"Are you a fool, for following the rule? Or are you cool?"

I would like to state at the outset that I try to follow as many rules as I can while writing or speaking English (I don't know if I can be called as a purist because I don't think of myself to be that good.... yet) but as and when possible, I correct myself, unlearn things that are to needed to be, and learn the correct usage. For instance, I used to say "Stop cribbing about it" but now I have switched to "Stop complaining about it" because I found out that crib doesn't mean complain in reality (Don't check Wiktionary, check a standard dictionary) and similarly, I say "The classes have been advanced" rather than saying "The classes have been preponed"

I also pronounce tortillas as tor-ti-yas and tortoise as tor-tis and clerks as clarks. The reason I do all of this is because I know that's how it is to be done. But when I listen to other people speak, I notice that words like crib and prepone are ubiquitously used in the sense mentioned above. In fact, it would seem wrong to substitute it with something else. You may think this is just a choice, some may say "Hey, the message is being conveyed" and I say "Well, if conveying the message is the objective, I might as well go about using sentences like 'What you do office?' and I am pretty sure you got what I was putting across." My idea of rules is that they are to be followed, for that's why they are there (Unless they are absolutely nonsensical)

But I have had these discussions with some people previously, and they also felt, as did Oxford dictionary that words such as prepone are used by such a large number of people that it is better to add it to the dictionary. So this can be interpreted in two ways - One, that we are being progressive... That instead of sticking to a bunch of archaic rules and making ourselves grope for the right thing, we go for the easier thing - and since the easier thing would naturally be preferred in the longer run, it will become the de facto standard. Which makes sense many times, because it allows languages (applicable to programming languages as well) to evolve to become better. Agreed. The other way to interpret it is that this will result in a decline of standard. If people start making up their own words, call that as "Lingo" and start using them haphazardly, then the standardisation of language, the structure, the quality - everything goes for a toss.

Both of them are correct - Notice that language now has become just a case in point. The concept of rules, archaic and modernisation, and flouting them is something we see in all areas. Whether homosexuality should be legal or illegal, whether euthanasia should be legal or illegal etc. Okay, maybe my choice of rules are not appropriate, but I am sure you can think of better ones - take 'Tthe red signal and nobody else on the road' situation - So, should you follow the rule because "Red light means stop and rules are rules" or should you say "Hey, this rule is not applicable because nobody is around" which becomes a call to be taken - Now we come back to the biggest problem... Who decides what is appropriate? If you decide case by case, then there are high chances of wrong decisions being taken - for instance, a guy jumps the signal because nobody was around. Lo! A speeding truck rams into him and there's an accident. Therefore, as case-by-case does not work, we need to standardise it, there are rules made - and they have to be followed.

If rules are meant for the people and a large number of people break the rules, does it mean that the rule is dumb and needs to be removed? It depends on how sensible the people who flout them are. If you see a hundred people driving past the red signal (which I see everyday) it doesn't mean that the signal is dumb. It only means that these people should be whipped. Similarly, if a bunch of teenagers decide to make "Sup" a word tomorrow because of its omnipresence and popularity, should we? (Yes, I know that's why Urban Dictionary has been created) But since pre and post are opposites, prepone actually makes a sensible antonym for postpone - valid.

Rules are meant to separate us from animals. If we all did whatever we wanted to, the bigger stronger people would have beaten up all the smaller mousy people and become rich. The principle of 'might is right' would have been applicable. The great Khali would have been the richest man instead of Bill Gates. I know I sound like Monica talking about rules... But heck, "I am not 'cribbing' about it, just ranting :-) " What's your take on it?

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