Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Phonetics and phone tricks

                                                   Phonetics and phone tricks
 ( This article appeared on The Hindu dated 27 Mar 2011)
             "Statutory warning:Getting prescriptions over phone is injurious to health"  
               Phone call can  become an acid test for one's language skill. Even though  my wife doesn't rate my linguistic skills highly  I was thinking so.The first thing she does on receiving my romantic messages  is to correct them.Of course no man  is a hero to his wife.

                               Once a school teacher received his wife's suicide note.It said "As there is no love between you and me, I am going to commit suicide".He immediately responded "You should have written you and I and not you and me.Me should be used as an object"
                   Coming back to phone calls ,so many times we are in a situation to spell something over the phone.May it be our address ,email ID,or website  spelling matters much.
            Once I went through the ordeal of  answering to a customer center of a bank .The honey tongued girl asked me to spell almost anything I answered. She went to an extent that when I said my degree as M.D, she asked  for the spelling .If it comes to alpha- numerals like the PAN the confusion never ends.There is always a confusion whether it is zero or the letter O. 
                    Just like Radia friendly politicians a telephone conversation might  become a night mare  for both the doctor and the patient   
                Medical terms are neither tongue friendly nor telephone friendly.Many times one of my relatives or friends would read a scan or laboratory report over the phone.Out of curiosity he would spell every word printed in the report right from the scan center's name to the reporting doctor's name.Of course there would be terms like salphingo oophoritis in between .By the time they finish reading my hair would have grown two more inches.Phone calls can never become a better alternative to personal appearances.
       But there are things worse than this .As a doctor, I sometimes have to spell the drugs over the phone.I always discourage  this practice .Of course there is no remuneration  for a phone consultation. But  sometimes it so happens that the drug that I have prescribed might not have been available in the pharmacy and I could not be seen in person .Usually I ask the person to hand over the phone to a nearby pharmacist or a doctor.But sometimes you have no other option other than spelling it.
                You cannot simply spell a drug name like "A..S..P.. R.. I..N" and get away with it.The person on the other end  usually wants to be very sure and immediately asks "A for?" or  "P for?". It is only then I start experiencing word finding difficulty.I have difficulty with at least twenty five alphabets.
            For some letters  I use to think  hard  as if I were Samuel Johnson but only to remain clueless .Words with a silent  first letter  cause confusion like when I say ''K for Knight or T for Tsunami''.Due to lack of words  I sometimes give many phonetically funny statements  like '' B for Bee" (a spelling bee question?) or ''Q for Queue''. Once a person asked "W for what sir?''.I had to reply "Yes!W for What!".
           The final blow came one day.While I was spelling a drug ,I was searching for a word starting with the letter N . Neptune..Nebula ..Nest.. not even Nothing came to my mind.Suddenly I said N for Nayanthara!.The caller was a old religious man.I didn't know what he thought of me..But he never turned to me again.May be he expected a Narayana from me or probably he is a Trisha fan.
            In psychiatry we use a test called 'FAS' test to test verbal fluency. It tests how many words a person can tell  in one minute starting with these letters (F,A and  S).I never dare to attempt it on myself.
           With the advent of mobile phone, now I have the option of sending an SMS.But at times I find my daughter's alphabet book handy.Never forget your basics!.

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