Funny Wrong Words

WHAT do you do when you consistently hear a teacher open a class with a grammatically garbled phrase? You could, like me, dwell on it momentarily and let it pass. Yoga, after all, is the practice of sharpening your focus and forgetting “y’all thoughts and y’all worries.”

Or you could set your mind to do the kind soul thing after you’ve heard the line yet again for the twentieth time—go tell the teacher at the end of class that it ain’t y’all but all your. Which was exactly what I did, not without a caring voice and a gentle scribble of the line on a piece of paper for future reference—just in case.

Alas, the poor young man would blush so hotly that a jumble of words would come forth like a wall in self-defense, as if to illuminate some vague point that y’all was of Indian origin rather than an American drawl from down south.

So much for being a busybody!

As it turned out, when I next attended his class, that phrase would disappear entirely, replaced by something else, a cut-and-paste line from someone or somewhere else, so bland and flawless it left no impression at all, let alone its intended message.

That, interestingly, could well be a good thing because our minds are ever the monkeys, swirling and swinging about from branch to branch, sometimes even from tree to tree. And mine has an awful way of hovering over words like a pickpocket roving around zips and pockets and purses.

Speaking of “hovering,” it’s one of those words that suffers from that terrible blight of mispronunciation, where “hover” rhymes with over rather than cover. Is this is a Singaporean thing, you wonder? The same scourge that would plague words like “shove” (pronounced like grove versus love) and “flour” (whose vowel is flattened to read flah and not rounded to sound like sour).

Thank goodness “shove” and “flour” don’t have to make any appearance on the mat, but “hover” does.

So whenever my back knee is made to hover an inch above the mat in an anjani asana, shaking and shivering as I hang out there, I just can’t help feeling that my crescent lunge would look even sexier—hips squared off and all—if only our dear teacher would get the verb right. Hover, like cover, please. Thank you!

Then there’s that other verb—the one not mispronounced but twisted into the wrong tense. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, so often in fact, that you may not even realize it’s wrong.

It’s the infamous “lay”—past tense of “lie” as in “lie down,” but used all the same to mean “lie”—a funny wrong word that seems to be monopolized mostly by the American teachers, strangely.

By far the funniest word situation I’ve ever encountered, though, is one that took place in a full-house, prop-filled restorative class four or five years ago. I don’t remember the exact pose we had eased into, but we learned—from a list of meticulously announced benefits—that one of the asana’s happy beneficiaries was the “glutinous” muscles.

I imagined jiggly, gooey sensations, especially around the bum, and felt a terrible urge to laugh. But that would have been plain rude and unkind, not least since this teacher is one of the most earnest and hardworking instructors I know, even though I don’t care much for her shrill, excitable voice and her fussing, clucking ways.

While it’s true that some teachers fall a little short in the language department, they may not necessarily be less effective. And so, I never approve when they forsake authenticity at the expense of trying to sound cool, for example, by going for a turn of phrase or a word that just doesn’t sit well on the tongue.

It’s exactly what happened at a class my friend S. attended earlier this year. This is what she had to say: “I remember feeling uncomfortable when he said ‘Tuck your tush in’ with a strange smirk, instead of ‘Tuck your tailbone in’ without a smirk.”

What are smirks, anyway, but the smug affirmation of the ego, which always comes gnawing at us when we least expect it, making a fool of our humility.

And so we beat on, battling the weight of our egos, learning to let go, to get light in our bodies and kind in our tongues, as we shake it all out at down-dog, right heel down, then left, forth and back, forth and back.

As a general and gentle guideline, students who feel a terrible need to correct the diction or grammar of a teacher should take a deep breath and count to ten. Then focus on all the good things the teacher has to offer, linguistic tics and all; and embrace the diversity. Or you could simply step into someone else’s class and say goodbye to those monkeys and pickpockets. 

Language Bites” are reflections on the joys and angst of language usage, from sentence structure to syntax, voice and vocabulary, some why’s and how’s, plus do’s and don’t’s.


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