Sunday, January 28, 2007Last Friday, after thanking God profusely for sparing me a tone-deaf bilal for the Friday Prayers, I chanced upon this article in the Star.
I am all for Malaysians to improve their English as well as other areas in dire need of immediate improvement like toilet-training and being less selfish. I am not sure about messing with the idioms though. Granted that there are Malaysians who use "Ali , Muthu and Ah Chong" instead of "Tom, Dick and Harry" but this is not going to help those Malaysians learning English unless they learn what "Tom, Dick and Harry" means in the first place. Before using "I need to spend a sen"( without adjusting to inflation) a Malaysian must first understand what is "spending a penny" and how the idiom came about.
Idioms are tied to the history, culture and religion of the original user of the language. Although Malaysians of all ages sometimes use English idioms without having an inkling of their origin, trying to Malaysianise them literally would not do justice to the idioms themselves. Take "doubting Thomas". Why Thomas? Why not Pitt or Jolene or Bush? This might be the reason:
This saying originated from the Bible. It is the story about when Jesus returns (after his crucifixion) and visits his disciples (Joh 20:19). All of the disciples are there except Thomas (Joh 20:24). When the others tell Thomas that they had seen Jesus he doesn't believe them and makes the comment, (Joh 20:25) "But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. Then Jesus makes a believer out of him when he returns eight days later and sees Thomas and says, (Joh 20:27) Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. (Joh 20:28) And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.1Now, tell me what should the Malaysian version be? On the other end of the scale we do have the equivalent of "John Thomas" the euphemism for the male organ. It is Awang for the Terengganu Malays although sometimes burung is also used. I am digressing so let us take another common idiom "raining cats and dogs". You might know it means very heavy rain but you might not know its origin:
This phrase's origin is unknown. Possible explainations include: The archaic French catdoupe is a waterfall or cataract, lightning and thunder sounds like that of a cat/dog fight, cats had a big influence on the weather, and the sky dog Odin was attended to by wolves according to Norse Mythology.
Another theory is that in old England, they had hay roofs on their houses and the cats and dogs would sleep on the roof. When it rained, the roofs got slippery and the cats and dogs would slide off of the roofs. There for it was "Raining Cats and Dogs".
This from a website visitor:
"raining cats and dogs" came from the middle ages, when houses had thatched roofs. To keep warm lots of animals would hide in the roofs when it was raining and sometimes fell through the flimsy roofs on to the streets below.
This from another website visitor:
I do believe the idiom "Rain Cats and Dogs" stems from the Norse Mythology. Cats were believed to represent the wind and dogs represented rain. Different animals represented different weather and natural phenomenon
This from another website visitor:
For the Idiom "Rain Cats and Dogs" I have heard one other explanation. In old England when peoples cats and dogs died they would simply through them into the gutter or alley with the garbage. If a strong enough rain came through it would flood the gutters and alleys to the point where all the dead cats and dogs would begin to float down the streets. Therefore very harsh rains were associated with cats and dogs. 1.
Malaysians do not believe in Odin or other Scandinavian things except maybe Carslberg, Nokia, Volvo and Tandberg. So how do we Malaysianise "raining cats and dogs"? In Terengganu we say "ujang sapa tok celek mata" (It rains until you can't open your eyes).
We must remember that values and psyches differ from nation to nation. Even philosophies are different. The Malays will say "Hujan emas perak di negeri orang, hujan keris lembing di negeri sendiri baik juga di negeri sendiri" (Though it rains gold and silver in a foreign land and daggers and spears at home, it is better to be at home)2.
Although Westerners say "There's no place like home", they also say "The grass is greener on the other side".
Languages are dynamic and when speaking or writing we borrow from each other and from other people too. We talk of Mat Rempit, we talk of bohsia and we talk about missing soru (though not necessarily at the same time). We sing rap and then ask our listeners to give us a high five. We never thought of translating anything. We do not expect people in the English-speaking world to localise "amok" other than to misspell it as "amuck" or to change "rattan" to something else.
To be good in any language, one must learn from a good teacher, read widely and constantly and then use it extensively. Changing part of it arbitrarily will be what the Malay peribahasa (idiom) says: Tikus membaiki labu.(The rat trying to fix the gourd).
Like they say, opinions are like rectums. Everybody has one. Whats yours?
1. Go here.
2. Malay Proverbs - Richard Winstedt -Graham Brash, Singapore (Reprinted1986,1990).