Saturday, December 3, 2016

When words lose their meaning

In the world of social media, a Troll is someone who pursues persons (most often, celebrities) with a different opinion (on social media sites) & posts aggressive messages to provoke or harass that person. But it also meant at different times in different places:

As you know, (spoken) language is ever evolving. So today if we think of a troll as an online person (often under a pseudonym or false identity), in future Narendra Modi going on about Maa-Bete ki Sarkar & Arvind Kejriwal jumping up every time Modi says/does something could also be considered as trolling. 

Now, all these definitions of troll made me think of words or names that acquire a totally different meaning or change the original meaning itself. There are many of these but I will touch upon only three.
Take for example, Colgate. Many years back when scooters had to be booked months in advance, you never asked for a toothpaste. Instead, it was always colgate. But over the years as other brands acquired shelf space & market share, the good old Toothpaste regained its space in the popular vocabulary. This helped Colgate to a great extent when another term with a slightly different pronunciation & a totally different meaning hit the headlines. Had it been a weaker brand, Colgate would have been forced to relaunch itself with a different name, when the previous UPA government gave us #CoalGate. The power of the brand has been proved by the fact that #CoalGate is dead & waiting to be buried, while Colgate thrives & rules the retail world.

Another example of such a power brand is Nirodh, the first widely publicized contraceptive in India. It literally means prevention or detention. Come on, you can admit you didn’t know this. I didn’t either and looked up on & One would think the meaning fits the brand to the T, but only if one has not witnessed its use as a balloon by the more mischievous ones at college/university auditoria. With increase in literacy rates, these qualified students soon made a mark in the field of politics. I think it was at behest of these bright ones that the government came out with adverts on TV to educate us of the actual name of the product & how to pronounce it correctly – Con-Dom.

While the above two were examples of brands unintentionally acquiring different meanings, there are some who acquire a name for the meaning of the word but become so powerful as to obliterate that meaning itself. Like Google, which is a play on Googol. Actually, googol means 1 followed by 100 zeroes, or what the mathematically inclined would call 10 raised to power of 100 ( But today, google has a totally different connotation in popular lexicon. Apart from being the brand name of a tech giant, it is also used to mean “to search”. e.g. It is ironical one has to google the real meaning of Google. During my younger days when I was into quizzing, if one was looking for an answer the easiest way out was approaching fellow quizzers. Someone was sure to know. When none did, we went to the library & searched it. But today we only need to go to google & even as one is typing it, google gets us the answers. Many fear that the likes of Google could soon make human intelligence redundant. Not really, for there are so many answers that are now ingrained in our memory. Like, ask anyone which is the highest peak in the world & the instant response would be Mount Everest.

Speaking of Mount Everest, my brother (Vikas Dimri) is attempting to climb the summit next year (April/May 2017). He has been working towards this for quite some time now. You can read about his passion, preparation & past achievements on the campaign support website ( While you are at it, pls loosen your purse strings & contribute towards the effort. 

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