Jeepneys and the English Language

Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This was published in the June 15, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror, page A6.

 

The mother lode of wayward metaphors was columnist Teodoro Benigno. One of his golden nuggets was “the Indians circled their wagons.” Unfortunately, the Benigno mine shut down permanently several years ago. I’ll have to pan for mixed metaphors from now on. But I won’t because prospecting is too much work. I’d rather wait for metaphorical nuggets to fall on my lap. Now before you deride me for being a devotee of Juan Tamad, let me say a few words in defense of Tamadism.

Juan Tamad understood Newtonian physics and made full use of it.  He knew that gravity would allow him to attend to other things besides picking fruit. Just imagine all the time and energy spent on climbing a tree and picking a fruit that will fall on your lap anyway and you will stop making fun of Juan.  Besides, Juan never tasted an unripe fruit, unlike those who could not wait for gravity’s confirmation.

Now a word of caution to the wise, as with any religion there is a limit to Tamadism. It’s one thing to eat fruits that fall from a tree and an entirely different thing to make coffee from the droppings of a wildcat. Civet coffee is taking Tamadism over the edge.

Let’s go back to the subject of mixed metaphors. I don’t know if it’s still done today but when I was in school, English teachers made students memorize worn-out American metaphors. I suspect they had a well-meaning desire to make us little brown boys appear American, even if we had never set foot nor ever dreamed of setting foot in America. But I’m not complaining. Except for the fact that my teachers overlooked the part about training us to speak like Americans. Anyway that’s beside the point.

The point is that an Americanito sounded intelligent, well-read, and more cosmopolitan compared to his unschooled brother.  Superior. At least, that’s how some people saw it. But from another perspective, creating Americanitos made no sense at all.

How was the sun-drenched brother supposed to assess the chances of a “snowflake in hell”? How could the shack dwelling brother visualize  “an elephant in the room”?  Nevertheless, Filipinos everywhere use tired metaphors because they think it makes them appear intelligent, well-read, and cosmopolitan. Superior. So they mouth them all the time without thinking. And with hilarious results.

Take the case of the learned Sen. Joker Arroyo who used sports as a metaphor to describe how far the RH Bill still had to go before it is enacted into law. He said, “Like in basketball, the bill has not yet reached the first base.”

In fairness to the centenarian senator, maybe he was around when the game was called baseketball; when a player had to shoot a ball into a basket before moving up to the next base. I don’t know. And frankly I don’t give a damn.  All I have to say about it is if he’s been around that long then he’s been around too long.

Then there was the niece of a contestant on Willie Revillame’s new show, Bigtime Willie. The niece closed the sob story of her aunt with these memorable words, “I know you will overcome your problems because at the end of every road there is a silver lining.”

George Orwell abhorred the use of stale metaphors. “There is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves… Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact,” he wrote in Politics and the English Language.

I think Orwell was describing a jeepney.


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