The Victorian 1979

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Roshida Abdullah

The morning was hot
and hard
on his face, and the light
shone white
through his shut lids.

He grimaced and squirmed,
a futile gesture of rebellion.
An attempt at avoiding
the inevitable.
"Go away," he moaned
in despair and fear.

Again: To leave the
embryonic refuge of his bed,
and the blank neutrality
of night
where nothing happens,
where monochrome dreams
are escapable,
and seldom return.

How long before I'm discovered,
he mused, concentrating
on the rust-brown smudge
on the ceiling above.
He sighed.

Resignation made him weak.
The blankets needed strength
to push off.
The mirror reflected
a blank,
and the mint in
the toothpaste failed
to sweeten the bitterness
accumulated through the night.

And the nagging foreboding
still rapped on his brain
like skeletal knuckles.

Again: To meet the world
and greet the faces.
The vacuous faces
with vacuous eyes.
Each face has a label
and a tag that sticks
like a bad smell.

Yet the faces,
the vacuous faces,
communicate satisfaction
with the labels, tags and smells
delegated to them.

HE was uncertain -
If HIS label should somehow
slip aside,
and show the blazing core,
would the faces gasp
in indignation
at the sheer presumption
and the obscenity of appearing
without the cardinal label?

Yes, they would
he decided, choosing
between a pink and a blue tag.
Cardboard or vinyl?

Again: To find and decide
which label to wear.
To determine beforehand
what the situation demands.
To weigh considerations
of what is expected
and excepted of him, by
different groups from
different levels and
different types with
different minds.
Different labels.



Slang will always be the black sheep in the many branched tree of language and yet, it may convey effectively the thoughts of a speaker in ways which can be vivid, grotesque, expressive or even vulgar.

Poor slang has often been misunderstood and treated rather shabbily. In 1601, Ben Johnson attacked the slang word "strenuous" as uncouth and vulgar. Ambose Berce scathingly put slang down as "the speech of him who robs the literary garbage cans on their way to the dump".

But slang is not without its defenders. The English essayist G. K. Chesterton wrote, "Slang is a metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry." Carl Sandburg, more especially, called it "language that takes off its coat, spits on its hands, and goes to work." Even William Shakespeare paid homage to slang, in a way, by drawing heavily upon contemporary slang for the dialogue of his plays.

In Malaysia, slang consists of borrowing words from another language, presumably to add zing (a slang word, by the way) to dialogue. For example to say that something is "best" in Malay is to say that it is better than plain old "terbaik". "Lah" ends some Malaysian English statements for emphasis. "Lah" sounds good to Malaysian ears and feels good to Malaysian tongues and has survived a long time. Not all slang words are as fortunate.

Did you know that "gib" meant "pout" and that a "cake eater" was yesterday's equivalent to today's "wolf" for an over-amorous young man? "Do" meant fraud and "mump" meant cheat. Does anyone remember "skiddoo", "blustiferous", "peedoodies" and "goo-goo eyes" for heaven's sake!!

Another type of slang has been around for a long time but has always remained in the outer perimeters of what is known as polite language. "Lousy" is such a word - it's been bandied around unpolitely for 250 years. More than 500 years ago, a boastful person was described as one inclined to "blow" and that has evolved into "blowhard". In 1400, Chaucer referred to a pair of dice as "bores", "booze" was a slang word even earlier. "Grub" for food can be traced back to the 1650's and "frisk" for search, to 1781. These words began as slang, have remained slang and perhaps may never become standard English.

A third type of slang provides standard language with many of its useful, new words. Since these words fulfill need, they quickly fill up the spaces in standard language. Some remain on the fringes, as it were, for a long time. "Strenuous" carried Ben Johnson's stigma for centuries until finally breaking into standard language in the 1900's.

"Hoax" was slang in Washington's time but was admitted into polite language 50 years later. About 1920, ladies first arranged their tresses in "hairdos" which was easier to pronounce and somehow less pretentious than "coiffure"; so in less than 20 years it had earned its place in standard language.

Slang can be so vivid and expressive that one can almost predict their future acceptance as good English - can you dispense with such clever little phrases like "cold feet", "wisecrack", "blurb", "razy", "ghost writer", "hard boiled", "double cross", "stuffed skirt", "haywire", "scab", " rubberneck", "easy mark", "scram"? Dictionaries disagree on the current status of these familiar words: "skyscraper", "bootleg", "bunk", "gadget", "vamp", "jazz", "hoodlum", and "highbrow".

The term "OK" has not been accepted as standard English except when used as a sign of approval on documents. The origin of this term is in dispute. Some believe that it originated from the O.K. club, a political group which supported Martin Buren for presidency in 1840. The club letters stood for Buren's birthplace, Old Kinderhook. The club touted Van Buren as "all right". Other authorities believe O.K. stood for "orl k'rect", a frontier misspelling of "all correct" used by President Andrew Jackson.

English is rich in slang and people in Great Britain and the United States have developed their own slang expression which have spread to all corners of the English speaking world. Some "wet blankets" have dismissed slang as an unnecessary new way of saying what can be perfectly well in standard English, but Henry Mencken is kinder. He says that slang is a "kind of linguistic exuberance, an excess of word making energy."

So let's take a look (with "peepers" and "goo-goo eyes", no doubt) at the sources of slang: criminal cant was developed to keep outsiders, especially the "fuzz" from understanding communications between "hoods". Their code has given us a large variety of lovely slang words- "bull" for policeman, "dip" for pickpocket, "skirt", "broad" and "moll" meaning woman, "moonshine" for illegal liquor, "joint" for establishment of ill repute, "eye" (for detective). Others are:

"third degree" - questioning
"gyp" - cheat
"shakedown" - search
"fence" - receiver of stolen goods
"racket" - profitable albeit illegal business
"pineapple" - bomb
"taken for a ride" - kidnap
"heater" and "rod" - gun
"needle" - adding alcohol to liquor

Theatre jargon has also presented some interesting slang terms, probably due to the artistic temperaments of artistes in general - hence:

"ham" - bad actor
"turkey" - failure
"dead pan" - comedian without facial expression
"the sticks" - small towns

There's the famous incident about the amusement journal, Variety's amusing headlines which read "Stix Nix Hix Pix". Let see, "Stix" means small town, "Nix", is an unfavourable reaction, "Hix" or "hicks" is similiar to country burnpkin and "Pix" of course is picture or movie. Therefore the baffling new language is decipherable as: The small town area reacted unfavourable to movie about country bumpkins.

Musicians and their fans have produced a rich slang. "Hepcat", "rat race" and "jitterbug" are common terms to the esoterics of jazz. More commonly understood are radio and television terms such as:

"stand by" - wait
"sign off" - end
"static" - disagreeable noise
"disc jockey" - oh, surely everyone knows this one
"zilch" - for anything or anyone unknown

The publishing world has added: "deadline", "handout", "slug" and "scoop". The mass media has managed to spread these words to the eager public while aviation provided: "bail out", "socked in" and "flying blind". Railroads added "highball", "caboose", "sidetrack". University students in all their "excess of word making energy", invented "brainstorm" for a sudden thought and "bull session" for general discussion. The armed forces in WWII produced vivid words and phrases which have outlasted the war - "snafu" (situation normal, all fouled up), "block buster", "black market", "blitz", "flak", "Quisling", "task force" and "DP" (Displaced Person).

Big organizations have languages of their own. Pentagonese, which is a slang word meaning slang words originating from the Pentagon, include "finalize" (complete), "flap" (state of tension or excitement), "bind" (prolonged flap) and this, seldom heard in Malaysia: "File 13" (waste basket). In the Navy, a waste basket is referred to as "deep six".

Writers invent slang to inject freshness and vitality - Chaucer cooked up "bones", Jack Conway concocted "belly laugh", "pushover" and "palooka" which is similar to T. A. Dorgan's "dumbell". Walter Winchell, a gossip columnist in Hollywood, had to report so many transient marriages and so had to invent new phrases:

"lohengrinned" - marriage
"middle-aisled" - marriage
"renovated" - (Reno is an American city famous for quickie divorces)

The only danger with slang is that fads and trends tend to change slang words so that what was "way in" one decade would be "far out" the next. There's no point going that far back, only a decade ago things were either "groovy" or "squaresville", today both words are decidedly "passé" - a slang word borrowed from the French.

Another danger of slang is that words may be invented for effect and are nothing more than amusing sounds. These slang words aren't vivid provocative nor will lower the level of speech. I suppose that can't be avoided, and for every 10 slang words, 2 or 3 will remain worthwhile and stand the test of time. Slang, the black sheep of the family, will never break off from its family tree.



It was a fight for Survival,
It was like us,
Against the rest of the world,
It was a battle to carry on a Species,
A Species that, had lived for so long,
And was now fading possible extinction.
We struggled and groped,
Lied and cheated,
Begged and threatened.
We were prepared to do anything,
To go to any extent,
As long as we lived.
Man is born,
And Man must die,
But it was not our time yet.
Like classical music,
We had to live forever.
In a way we were unique,
We did the least,
And yet the most,
We were small and yet so big.
But no matter what,
We tried, and not just tried,
We tried our best.
We were bathed in mud on many occasions,
But we stood our ground,
No matter how wet and slippery the road was,
No matter how many times we stumbled and fell,
We always picked ourselves up,
And carried on.
We were filled with this immortal fighting spirit,
That never let us down.
This was a fight to save ourselves,
And we had to win.
We had to show the world,
That we were not,
What they thought us to be,
We had to prove,
That our lives were worthwhile and needed.
Immortality is not dead,
We had to live!
We must live!
We shall live!


R. Nasamani, L6A2

The Polish girl who was to be become as one of the saints of science, was a healthy, honest, sensitive, beautiful but, most of all, a gifted young woman. Marya Sklodovska was born in Warsaw, Poland, in November 1867. Her father, Professor Viadislav Sklodovski was a teacher, teaching mathematics and physics. Mme. Sklodovska, her mother, a high-spirited and a busy woman, was the head of a girl's school.

Marya learned her lessons quickly and easily. She had an excellent memory and the gift of absorption. Her youth passed. As years came by, her father did not get much money. So, Marya, at the age of seventeen, began to give lessons to children in their homes. In order to satisfy her desire to learn after her excellent work in school, Marya studied in the 'Floating University'. This was a group of young people who met secretly to study university subjects.

Marya loved her sister, Bronya, and wanted to help her achieve her great aim in life, which was to go to Paris to study to be a doctor. Marya, in her desire to help Bronya find a way, forgot that she, too, had at times had a dream of going to Paris to continue her studies.

In 1885, Bronya went to study in Paris and in September in that year, Marya was looking for a job as a governess. She got the job in a wealthy family. There she met the oldest son of that family who just came back from Warsaw. He saw a young woman so talented and beautiful. They fell in love and wanted to get married. When his parents heard the news, they said that the marriage would be impossible. The young man, who was weak, changed his mind. Marya's feelings were hurt hearing this, and she gave up love forever.

After working there for three years, she returned to Warsaw. Again, she became a student in the 'Floating University'; this time she was secretly doing experiments. Bronya had married and invited Marya to stay with her in Paris. Marya made up her mind to go to Paris to study there. In the French Republic, Marya changed her name to Marie Sklodovska and became a student in the Faculty of Science.

Marie did not stay very long in the home of Bronya and her husband as it was too far from the university. She moved to a little room at the top of a building. Late hours were always spent for studying and she almost could not care less for her health. Yet to her, these hurried and busy years were not only the happiest but the most perfect in her life.

Day and night she studied and worked in the laboratory. There she met a French scientist, Pierre Curie, whom she was very interested in. They respected and loved each other. In 1895, they were married. Two years later, a daughter, Irene was born. There were new duties to Marie Curie, yet she carried on with them, a happy good mother and a wise, happy scientist.

A few years before, a scientist had discovered that a metal called uranium gave a kind of radiation. In 1898, the Curies declared they believed there was something in nature which gave out radioactivity. To this something, still unseen, they gave the name radioactivity. Other scientists could not believe them and wanted to see some radium.

One evening in 1902, Pierre and Marie went down to their laboratory. Pierre unlocked the door.

"Don't light the lamp," Marie said and they stood there in darkness.

"Look..... look", and there, glowing with faint blue light in the glass test tubes on the tables, was the mysterious something which they had worked so hard to find..... radium.

The discovery of radium brought fame to the Curies but they did not enjoy it. In 1903, the two Curies received the Nobel Prize in physics. Fame troubled Marie and her husband, because science was their world and in this world of science, fame and honour had no value.

In 1906, Pierre died in an accident and it was so great a blow to Marie that she found it difficult to recover from it. Her life went on. In 1911, she received another Nobel Prize.

The most important ceremony for Madame Curie for her discovery of radium was in Washington. In the name of the people of America, the President presented her with some radium so that she could make more discoveries to give to the world.

In the years that followed, Madame Curie was active but less than before. She grew weaker day by day and the disease that was taking away her strength and her life was itself caused by the radium. During her last hours, she spoke about science, the laboratory, her studies and about radium. She died on July 4th, 1934, and was buried beside her husband.

One of Marie Curie's best science students wrote at the time of her death: "We have lost everything". This was the feeling at the time of her death, but the feelings of the world in thinking of the life of this great woman and great scientist must be "We have not lost everything. We have gained so very, very much."

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Created on 5 October 2000.
Last update on 5 October 2000.

Ooi Boon Kheng