Aiyo. Before linguistic purists direct their verbal barbs in this direction may I say in mitigation that it should be known by now that this word has gained international respectability. It has entered the prestigious Oxford dictionary which surely stamps the imprimatur of acceptability and passage into common usage. How it got there and when [...]


So much ado about verbal pugilistics


Aiyo. Before linguistic purists direct their verbal barbs in this direction may I say in mitigation that it should be known by now that this word has gained international respectability. It has entered the prestigious Oxford dictionary which surely stamps the imprimatur of acceptability and passage into common usage.

How it got there and when it made the grade might be shrouded in some mystery just now. But then who cares how it got there as some politicians might say when money makes a sudden and surreptitious appearance.
There are claimants who vouch that the loquacious Wimal Weerawansa (who seems to have taken a vow of silence lately) should be credited with drawing the attention of the whole wide world to a word that even our grandmothers used to express consternation or sorrow or whatever emotional state called for its utterance.

So the word aiyo has been used in common parlance for decades, if not centuries, though it might have gained political currency when Weerawansa publicly called common candidate Maithripala Sirisena “Aiyo Sirisena”, in lamentation, disdain or pain who really knows.

Another whose mere appearance on TV or offering of regular desana to the media makes viewers swiftly change channels or tap their foreheads with a sigh of “aiyo” may find it a decisive blow to our pristine culture to learn that Sri Lankans are only part owners of the word which is in increasing usage these days at the very sight of politicians singing their praises to yahapalanaya or treating it with growing contempt.

It appears that it is in use in South India too and the irresistible retired screen queen and retiring politician Jayalalithaa Jeyaram is likely to claim that Tamil Nadu be declared sole ‘owner’ of the word and would contest any attempt at attributing part-ownership to Sri Lanka.

It is bad enough that she wants the deserted islet of Kachchativu to be declared Indian territory and the right of Indian fishermen to chase shoals of fish trying to get away from the disgusting fishing habits of her Tamil Nadu citizens, to be allowed to pollute our waters.

She now wants to grab aiyo for herself when we have been using it for so long. Those better acquainted with the history and development of the Sinhala language would be able to say whether the story I heard the other day shortly after publishers of the Oxford dictionary did us the honour, is true or a mere racist remark a la Don Trump who seems to have been trumped by an equally undesirable presidential hopeful.

I would of course have consulted my Peradeniya contemporary and one-time ambassador to Thailand, Prof. J.B. Disanayake whether the story has any basis in fact. But the affable “JB” as he is called by most seems virtually an ‘untouchable’ these days, if you get what I mean. Probably busy writing his 100th book or am I underestimating his publishing prowess which I came face to face with when we were together at our Bangkok embassy.

Anyway I was told that the word gained popular currency when personnel of the Task Force Illicit Immigration (TaFII) scanning our northern waters spotted boatloads or less of our South Indian brethren trying to make a Normandy-like landing especially on our north-western beaches some 50 years or so ago. “Aiyo onne enawa” I was told were commonly heard words.

It is said that our northern smugglers heading out of Velvettithurai to Indian shores to barter milk food and torch batteries for Indian sarees and the like probably carried the word across the Palk Strait. Aiyo, they said, each time the Indians raised the prices or made unacceptable demands as they are wont to do. That is probably how it came to be popularised in the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu and who cares what Jayalalithaa, Seeman and Vaiko have to say. N

ow I hear that the Chinese are also staking a claim to the use of the word arguing that it originated in the Middle Kingdom or wherever thus making aiyo a part of a linguistic chop suey. If this goes on much longer the Eskimos will also be doing the same though I am still to hear an Eskimo yelling aiyo each time a seal made a get away.

With the Oxford dictionary publishers trying to be fair in apportioning ownership it would be prudent to search for a word that has an authentic Sri Lankan ring to it and certainly its flavour. Should we not encourage our linguists to make a pitch for a genuine Sinhala word like “ado”. After all Prof. “JB” argued before an international conference (in South Korea I think) that Sinhala be included as one of the 16 oldest languages in the world and was successful in having it included.
Those who have sat attentively and long enough at the ringside of our political pugilism would know how much the word “ado” features in the daily give and take of our representatives and the hordes that keep their company.

In more recent years “ado” seems to have entered the parliamentary vocabulary as verbal clashes and occasional fisticuffs have helped expand the lexicon of the elected. Ado of course is one of the mildest and most melodious forms of address that has figured in what passes for parliamentary debate. But ado would be more meaningful if accompanied by pissa or thakkadiya or ali hora.

In days gone by ado was perhaps the highest form of insult flung by the sarong-hoisted village ruffian confronting an innocent passer-by or staggering down the village street with sufficient illicit brew inside to turn himself into a mobile incendiary device. In more recent times “ado” has become the least offensive of words employed by political thugs acting on behalf of their local masters who have no compunction about the verbal or physical abuse they hurl because they will be “looked after.”

Whether the word has had a trickle-down effect-first used by the politicians and then by his minions or had worked itself way up until it reached the abode at Diyawanna Oya is a subject for local researchers.
Those who thought that “ado” might be a more appropriate word to recommend for inclusion in the next revision of the dictionary because it seemed so genuinely Sri Lankan reflecting our social and political culture and behaviour had obviously not done their home work.

They forgot that England’s greatest bard had already upstaged them by a few centuries when he called one of his popular comedies “Much Ado About Nothing”. This might require a study of the etymology of the word used by us and by England of Shakespeare’s day. But the easy way out of such an arduous process and to justify our claim is to press ahead with that story told long years ago that England’s bard was really a chap called Williong Shakis Perera from somewhere around Moratuwa who was taken aboard a Portuguese ship at anchor, got so drunk on Portuguese wine and woke up only to find himself in mid- ocean sailing to Lisbon.

From there it was no great shakes to end up in Old Blighty. I mean in those days the Brits did not charge something like Rs. 25,000 just to apply for a visit visa. They had no visas either when they started coming to Ceylon in droves.
So old Willy is just one of our boys from Moratuwa who had developed a liking for the bottle and baila and that is how “ado” figured in the play. Actually he had originally titled it “Mokada Ado Apita Bonde Neddha” but had altered it on linguistic and probably legal advice or so the story goes.

Now if you believe that you will believe that it was the media that misinterpreted President Sirisena’s recent controversial speech about being kept in the dark about investigations into bribery and corruption as claimed by ministers Samarasinghe and Senaratne. Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne who took time off from telling all the great things the cabinet did last week to lambast the media for misinterpreting a speech of such clarity, brushing off the objection of some journalists that they took their cue from the statement issued by the President’s Media Division.

According to Senaratne they should have viewed the video of the speech. So we come down to this. Don’t believe what the media division releases say. May be he could explain what the media should do if there is no video but only a release from the president’s media? I believe the minister in charge of mass media was by his side when Senaratne waded into the media. That has become the easy target for all the faults and frailties of government of whatever hue.
This is why I feel the real Sinhala word with a plethora of meanings that will cover the fun and frolic of our political world is koloppan and we should urge that this be included in the Oxford Dictionary.

MPs selling their duty-free vehicle permits, doctors demanding special schools for their children, political and police thugs attacking night clubs, are all kollopan that did not happen decades ago when politics was more respectable like aiyo.
Why, such is life today that even crocodiles barge into police stations and threaten the guardians of law and order when not too long ago it was politicians who went into police stations demanding their supporters be released from custody or hang policemen from the kaju pulang tree.

In fact shortly after last year’s parliamentary election a newly elected MP had entered a station demanding that his supporters be released and berating others there.
It is not yet established whether the crocodile went there looking for a politician or two who might have come to threaten the police. But sleuths from the CID, FCID and the Bribery Commission are on the job we hear.
The fact that the aforementioned crocodile which cannot be named for legal reasons, first entered the crime investigation room and then ventured elsewhere does suggest it was possibly looking for some law makers turned law breakers.
Now that is kollopan, but of one kind only. More of it will surface in the days to come.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.