Mon | May 29, 2017

Foot-in-mouth disease

Published:Sunday | September 6, 2015 | 9:00 AM

I have avoided the education beat with this column, except for that one time I was, by implication, styled a mongrel leggo beast. And let's recall, if only for the record, that I was minded to agree with the man! Anyhow, the fallout from the recent leggo beast comment is too rich in comedic potential, and too full of our customary hypocrisy, to avoid entirely.

As a result of the flare-up, I've been consulting the social rulebook for acceptable uses of the term. It turns out that you CAN use it, but only under specific conditions. It must clearly describe a behaviour, not a category of persons. That is, unless the category of person is, say, parliamentarians, councillors, priests, or other

people in authority. If so, you may leggo de leggo beast without a leash. But use of it otherwise is impermissible, because the world is full of sensitive souls.

What is more, there are race and class requirements to observe when using the term. White, near-white, brown, red, Chinese, and Indian people must be cautious. They themselves may be described as leggo beasts without complication. But the key things aren't race or class, but rather social status.

So, for example, you wouldn't have got into trouble for calling Warmy a leggo beast for flipping the bird at the media and frightening a Gleaner intern. However, had the Gleaner intern backed off her sandals, unpinned her weave, and let loose a string of fine Jamaican linguistic inventions at Warmy, he could not respond by calling her that.

 

sympathies for Warmy

 

Of course, I'm using this example as purely illustrative, for as I explained at the time, I have sympathies for Warmy, and I have no evidence whatsoever that The Gleaner's intern removed her sandals, cursed, or wears a weave.

My conclusion, based on this and some other things I've noticed, is that one had better avoid Jamaican or Jamaicanisms altogether if you want to stay out of controversy.

However much the touters of 'Jamaican' may try to convince me that using our Jamaican language is a good idea, I find that whenever it would be practical and helpful to draw on a Jamaican term, it's likely to cause problems.

For instance, I'm driving down the road and I see a man dressed in rags behaving oddly. In fact, I saw one such Friday morning. I may think to myself: "Ku pon de madman!" By having that thought, I'm not endorsing the treatment of the mentally unsound in our society, nor am I saying definitively that the hapless individual in front of me is inescapably and forever doomed to mental illness.

 

stepping over the line

 

In other words, I'm not assigning this man to a category from which he can never escape and to which he was assigned by virtue of birth. I am, however, noting that his behaviour doesn't comport with standards of appropriateness in our society.

To press the point, if you lie down at a bus stop on Old Hope Road and fondle yourself in full view of passing traffic, you've stepped over the line of the commonly applied and ever-present Jamaicaman IDGAF (short for "I don't give a damn what you think"), into the realms of 'WTF?' (short for "What in heaven's name is happening here?")

Whereas it's OK to say, "I don't like that girl's behaviour", it's not OK to say, "Cho! Is a teggereg!" or "Dat de gyal ah one stregge." I may say, "Away, you termagant!", but I may not say, "Guweh, likkle kinaki!" That's because 'termagant' is high-class English, but 'kinaki', 'teggereg' and 'stregge' are high-powered Jamaican.

Another example: Suppose I'm trying to just discuss a topical legal issue without prejudging the matter. It's all well and good when I talk about MSM, homosexuals, and gays. But if you raise the ordinary Jamaican term ''tibwoy', there's trouble a-comin'.

So, while it is perfectly acceptable to say "Homosexuals in Jamaica are probably wondering when they will be able to get married, just like they're able to in the United States", I can't use the vernacular and say: "De b***ybwoy dem waan fi married like inna 'Merica". It almost means the same thing, but not quite, because our descriptors tend to have a directness that is often considered impolite. So people would get upset. All of a sudden there would be 20 letters to the editor, Facebook would blow up, and more petitions to dump me from The Gleaner would be hand-delivered.

 

misunderstood

 

I'm finding this is the problem with Jamaican. Every time I want to buss off a big Jamaica talk, people are going to take it the wrong way. Maybe it's because I haven't had the proper training, meaning mi jus' leggo like a beast pon de language.

So apparently it's not what you say, it's how you say it. If you say it in Jamaican, you're going to get into trouble.

Truth is, I believe there's a little leggo beast in all of us. OK, so you're thinking: "Speak for yourself!" But seriously, there is definitely the potential.

A properly trained human is one who, even sometimes, tames the beast within with the help of social rules, personal ethics, legal prohibitions and guidance, and individual conscience. This is a picture of what it is to be human quite consistent with most solid thinking in Western civilisation. Plato certainly understands us as beasts who can sometimes tame and channel our baser drives. And Freud spoke about repressing animal cravings as being a necessary prerequisite of civilised life.

In that respect then, we are all beasts. Christians, as usual, have a more elegant way of explaining it: We are born in sin and prone to sin. I know this understanding of things annoys the New-Agers who are spiritual but not religious, but who cares? Dem is bunch a damn leggo beast!

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.