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Vol. XXXIII No. 18, January 1-15, 2024

Our Readers Write

Grin and bear it!

I read the caption Traffic arrangement on Anna Salai likely to stay ‘permanently temporary’ in a Chennai daily dated November 7, 2023. The use of ‘permanently temporary’ made me chuckle. Such oxymoronic usage occurs in native English-speaking countries, but they use this expression while referring to migrants or migration (‘permanently temporary migrants’) – the phrase is largely restricted to legal terminology.

Reading the paper caption, I was reminded of the signage ‘Private Public Phones’ that was liberally used in 1990s Madras, a time when public telephones in red wood-glass booths gave way to public call facilities at the showrooms of small traders. My understanding of this practice was that it ensured the safety of the instrument from vandalism. I find the fun-eliciting signage of ‘Private Public Phones’ rather akin to concepts like ‘Permanently Temporary Traffic’!

Nothing is quite incorrect, after all, considering that William Shakespeare himself uses oxymora such as ‘cold fire’, ‘wolfish lamb’, and ‘loving hate’ (Romeo & Juliet)! The same English language provides us scope to seek shelter in William Hickey’s famous expression ‘Grin and bear it’ (Memoirs, 1749-1775)!

Raman, Anantanarayanan

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