By Tony Deyal
To my friend, Dr Johny Coomansingh, whose call I missed and made the excuse, “My phone responds only some of the time. It is like a worker in Trinidad.”
George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright, satirist and Nobel Prize winner, quipped, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” For example, in the UK, a “jumper” is a woolen pullover worn mostly in winter. In the US, a “jumper” is someone who commits suicide by leaping from a building or bridge. There are many, many more. When I went to Elementary school, a “rubber” was an eraser for a pencil and we all had rubbers in our book-bags.
In the US a “rubber” is a condom and a book-bag is a “back-pack”. “Blinkers” in the UK are flaps that are used to restrict the vision of racehorses, and in the US are what we call “indicators” on a car; a “casket” is a jewelry box in the UK and another word for “coffin” in the US; and, if you go to either country and ask for a “shag”, you will probably get a slap in England unless you have the charm or wherewithal for proceeding further, and may even use the American “shag” to fulfil your request. In the UK “shag” is a colloquial term for having sex and in the US it is a type of carpet.
I’ve never found the different meanings of the same words to be as bad as the different spellings. When I went to University in Canada, my first Journalism assignment was to cover a political meeting and write an article on it. I got an “F” that made me extremely angry and upset. The professor explained that I was in Canada and had to use his country’s spelling and not British. I had “spelled” (not the British “spelt”) more than three words wrong, hence the “F”. If I had a choice, I would have got the “F” out of Canada very quickly and head for England, but that was impossible since I was on a scholarship.
This is how I ended up using “aluminum” instead of “aluminium”, and spelt “realise” as “realize” and “recognise” as “recognize”. I had to use “hood” instead of “bonnet”, “freeway” and not “motorway”, “curb” to mean “kerb”, “tire” for “tyre” and “truck” instead of “lorry”. The one that depended on the lecturer collecting my work was “phony” or “phoney”. The Americans and many Canadians use “phony” but the British have stuck to “phoney”.
However you spell it, “phony” or “phoney”, the meaning is the same- bogus, sham, false, fake, fraudulent, forged, feigned and even simulated. The word originated from the percentage of my Irish ancestry that considered the British an easy prey and so came up with a con known as the “fawnery” (or “finger”) rig (trick or swindle). This later became know to the British as a “phoney” and the Americans as a “phony”.
There are a lot of these around. For instance, one comedian asked, “What’s the difference between a woman and a volcano?” Volcanos never fake an eruption. When one of my Canadian friends talked about the fake news going around the nation’s media, I commiserated, “Especially about your prime minister. Some of it is Trudeau!” Then when my mother sent me to the Catholic Church to be baptised (not baptized), the priest wore a fake nose, moustache and glasses. It was a blessing in disguise. I suppose this is why I call the fake oranges that the Americans have created “Pulp Fiction” and I argued with one of my friends on Good Friday last week that the Holy Land is not a fake place. Israel!
I suppose I got into “phony”, “phoney” and “phone” when I was researching my article last week about “Pegasus”, the world’s most prominent cyberweapon which was acquired from the Israeli company, NSO Group, by the Trinidad and Tobago government, the only one in the region to do so. One of my friends from the UK who read my column called me with a warning. “Tony,” he insisted, “It is not Pegasus you have to worry about. It is not cell phones or even your microwave spying on you.
These are not the appliances you should worry about at all. It is your vacuum cleaner that should concern you. It has been collecting dirt on you for years!” I must say that I got the Shark of my life and figured that because of some Brute, Hoovering over me, I might Dyson, nipped in the Budd so to speak. However, I came up with the perfect response. Simplicity itself, really. I bought one that was more reliable.
What got to me though was not my vacuum cleaner but an allegation that “spying was being conducted by a constable appointed by the minister of national security.” I grew up with many of them and I know what they get up to and what they are capable of. I did an online search with “Trinidad Police Constable charged…” and got a substantial number starting with “Police officer charged with corruption”, “Another Police Officer Charged in Extra Duty Racket”, “Police constable charged with stealing over $400,000”, one charged with a murder in 2018, and another with “sexual penetration of a minor.”
Even when I was writing the article and thinking about the time when my lawyer could not access my phone to get information from me on a matter involving the government, I thought about one of my friends, an ex-policeman. Before joining the “force”, he used to hang out with us and was always most present when we acquired mangoes, chickens, blue dasheen, oranges and other fruits from our “neighbours”, or indulged in the occasional throwing of missiles. When he returned to Trinidad for a short holiday, he met my mother in the market and asked her about me. She told him that I was not living there anymore but if he wanted to contact me, she would give him my cell number. He responded, “Miss Deyal. I always know that boy would make a jail!”
What I made instead was a mountain out of molehills of humour. I eventually settled down. My wife and I got married under a cell phone tower in Siparia. The ceremony was nothing to phone home about but the reception was perfect. Unlike the Cell-Phone who proposed to his girlfriend by giving her a ring, I got a new and extremely costly cell phone for my wife. It was the best trade I ever made.
*Tony Deyal was last seen wondering why the majority of car firms like Porsche, Ferrari, Mc Laren, Mercedes, Motorola, TAG Heuer and Hummer make cell phones but Dodge only makes Chargers.