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Swinging In or Swooping Down?

Many years ago, a fellow scholar and I embarked on a novel philological project, which began in the sweaty summer of 2000 with the simple but powerful insight that all text for all news in the English print media in India is essentially generated out of a limited number of words. We thus set out, with the help of friends, to document what we called at the time “the cliches, banalities and truisms” of the of the Indian English press. E-mailed to friends and colleagues amongst the Mumbai and Delhi literati, this amateur questionnaire grew into a veritable ethno-linguistic survey, which we called the Lexicon of Indian Journalese.

Our lexicon was compiled of terms and phrases commonly found in newspapers such as The Times of India. While seemingly neutral devices for describing events and actions common to the Indian scene, we suggest that these terms form a much deeper sub-strata of meaning in Indian public discourse. They are in fact linguistic structures shared by both veteran editor and cub reporter, by the governing elite and the citizen-subaltern, they are both description and truth. Read the ur-paragraph of Indian journalism and leap into the fray with your own contributions here.

Given my prior, amateur forays into this rich semantic field, I was pleased to see that our theory of the deep structures of Indian English journalism was recently confirmed by noted historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam in his scathing review of The White Tiger in LRB. More recently, a new variation on our lexicon surfaced (quietly and unbeknownst to foreign audiences) in yesterday’s CSM. Anuj Chopra in Pune writes of B. Ramalinga Raju that the Indian government, “in damage-control mode, swooped in to take control of Satyam, the beleaguered outsourcing company”.

While it did not merit an entry at the time of our compilation eight years ago, this journalist has rendered yeoman service to the lexicon, and deserves kudos for a new insight into financial regulation in India. “Swooping in” is a recognisable hybrid of “swinging into” and “swopping down” — the two entries in our lexicon before “nab”. Examples of this type of state behaviour are when the Government of India or one of its state or local arms “swings into action” after a crisis, and “swoops down upon” its unlawful subjects. Recent work on the anthropology of the state in India has also confirmed this swooping tendency. While without the vertical dynamics of “swooping down upon” or the proactive posture of “swinging into”, “swooping in” is a fascinating description of the government’s actions to protect shareholders, and may even denote a new posture by Indian regulators in the wake of the global financial crisis.

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