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Emporis Projects (Rs48)


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Prolix and other addictions

There is a history to words. Each one was first used by someone, now long dead, in a particular context to tell someone something, to elucidate  an argument, to persuade of a conviction,  to inflame one to fiery action or simply to caress  someone with the softer syllables of love

I was recently advised by my very close friend who is a true blue journalist, that my writing is a bit ‘prolix’.

Prolix sounds like and probably should be a recreational drug, but alas for me it is not.

It means this.

  1. Tediously prolonged; wordy: editing a prolix manuscript.
  2. Tending to speak or write at excessive length. 

Verbosity. A verbal stomach upset. In short long-winded.

But a visit to the dictionary much like a penitent to his church reveals a ‘kinder’ root meaning.

[Middle English, from Old French prolixe, from Latin prolixus, poured forth, extended.]

I like that, pouring forth, extended. 

These words do pour forth gushing as in the flooding of the Nile.

Which got me thinking. Why do I like words?

When I was very young, a friend of mine who was upset with me about something or the other, called me a wordmonger. It wasn't I suspect a compliment. More like warmonger than costermonger. The word monger means to sell or hawk. So one who sells or hawks words, unlike say, one who peddles wares on the street.

I was upset then, but not now for I like the idea of selling words. They are worthy of price and imbued with inherent as well as generous value, intended to enrich the moment with better meaning than the silence which precedes their employ.

Take the word imbued for example. The rough cut version of this could have been filled with; but the polished and faceted meaning is also to inspire by its quality. ‘Imbued’ shines. ‘Filled with’ doesn’t.

I am also old school. Dickens lives within, as does Trollope and Austen and Hardy and Bronte and Lawrence and Collins and Chesterton and Joyce and Proust, all the way down to Wodehouse. I eat slower when it comes to words and descriptions, preferring to masticate like a ruminant scholar rather than swallow whole. I am more ungulate than reptile.

It is not that pithiness is anathema. I love the way for example Robert Parker writes his modern detective novels. He conveys in a few words what I would take paragraphs to explore. And he does so with unfailing wit with a piquant dash of literary reference which would be out of place in any other serving, but he makes the whole dish work. He is a like a molecular chef, microscopic portions exploding with fissionable delight on your tongue. 

I am Pantagruel in my approach, dealing with “serious matters in a spirit of broad maybe even cynical good humour”. But given the gargantuan origin, it means that my feasts are lavish, bedecked with feather and plume, redolent with overt fragrances and asking for appetite to be brought unrestrained to table. My spices are freshly plucked, never dehydrated or freeze dried. The fruits on the table are succulent and ripe and will not last another day of not eaten at the instant.

I like words. They talk to me. Often they whisper from dark corners of my mind where they were stored and lay forgotten. They say, here we are, use us, we were created for this precise moment. 

And so I do for I am not afraid of these whispers.

At the same time I like the laconic cowboy: ‘yup’ is sometimes as eloquent as ‘I concur’. And in turn of phrase, “Hi Ho Silver Away”, is much more poetic than “Giddy up horse!”

What can I say, when it comes to words and language of which unfortunately I am fluent only in one, I am epicurean. In fact to borrow from one of my favourite cooking websites, I am ‘epicurious!’

I search for meaning in life. I search for meaning in language.

There is a history to words. Each one was first used by someone, now long dead, in a particular context to tell someone something, to elucidate  an argument, to persuade of a conviction,  to inflame one to fiery action or simply to caress  someone with the softer syllables of love.

When we use that unusual word again, when we place in it our own time and place we bring forth that person too. History lives in the present with those words.

I confess to being a spendthrift with words. I can't help it. I love the joy of using them flagrantly. And unlike my meagre income, this is inexhaustible treasure, a cornucopia replenishing itself even as it tries in vain to expend its resource.

But how can one resist? Look at the word spendthrift for example. It is oxymoronic in its construct. Spend versus thrift. Put together with impish delight by an unknown wit?

That’s the other thing. Words are essential for wit. Used well they make you smile. Often a wry twitch of the lips  more than a loud guffaw, but I defy anyone to read the schoolboy words of Richmal Crompton’s William series and not be moved even as  a soured adult to laughter. Or when Wilde twists the knife in with his ever so sharp riposte. Or when Ambrose Bierce makes bitter sweet in his diabolical dictionary.

I suppose I am Victorian in my tastes. Words were currency at that time. Your ability to turn a pretty phrase was possibly as desirable as turning a pretty leg. So I am enamoured of the need to craft words. To create intricate intaglios of language in which I may embed the odd gemstone, the mused upon epithet and the less-used synonym. It gives me pleasure. And I am appreciative that it may not do so to others. But as the cannibal confessed to the missionary, what to do?

I am a hopeless quivering in-need-of-a-fix word addict. There is no cure for Prolix!

PS:  The right use of the word prolix would have been something like “your writing suffers from prolixity”.  But my friend was quoting from what used to be our bible for anti-establishmentarianism, Catch 22 and the character of PFC Wintergreen. And it sounds much better to say you are a bit prolix!

(V Shantakumar is the former chairman & CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi in India. He is now the managing partner at Doing Think, a consulting company. Mr Shantakumar has over four decades of wide ranging experience as a marketing strategist and communication specialist and has played a key role in the creation and growth of some significant brands in India.)

 

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