As happy as happy could be.
What a baffling phrase/idiom/cliche. Who knows how happy can Happy be?
I know someone called ‘Happy’ who hates this expression with all his being. No wonder, with a name like that. School was hard on him; with everybody expecting him to be happy all the time. “Fell and hurt your knees? Don’t cry, even your name is Happy!”; “Sky is falling? But you are Happy!”.
“Happy as Happy can be?”, he’d ask me, “how does anybody know how happy I can be, or have the capacity of being?”
I wonder how this expression came into being, and whether he suffered any ill-effects from all the curses my friend Happy has sent his way.
Audiences, as a general rule, dislike stereotypes. See what I did there? I stereotyped ‘audience’. Stereotypes are a part of life, whether we like them or not. Somewhat like cliches (and I just found out that cliches and stereotypes are etymologically related, being terms associated with printing).
Most of the times I can’t decide whether I mind it when people classify and categorize others. For example, some of my friends hated ‘Raj’ from ‘The big bang theory’ during the first few seasons because Indians (as we think of and know ourselves) are not like him. His accent for one is weird. But I always found him very cute in a self-deprecating way. Another time, I read a blog post about Indian weddings which advised the Indian woman to stay away from the guy she loves, because she won’t get to marry him anyway! (It was supposed to be a comment on arranged marriages, that Indian girls are not allowed to marry guys they love; but that’s for the most part misinformation perpetuated by bollywood movies). It was a very well-written paragraph, and of course it’s possible things like that happen in such a greatly populated country like India, but I know a lot of Indian girls (single and married, arranged and otherwise) and none of them have experienced this dilemma. So I couldn’t make up my mind whether I should be offended by that blog post or not.
I assume the bad feeling associated with cliches in general, and in literature and movies in particular is because a cliche is evidence of unoriginality. And I believe my ambiguous attitude towards cliches is because my original creations (as well as speech) abound with them, and towards stereotypes is because I consider myself one. That is to say, I seem to fit into many categories: the stereotypical woman, the Indian girl, the novice blogger, the amateur/wannabe poet, the female driver, the bride.
We don’t like stereotypes because they make us feel average; the background artists of the blockbuster called life. They take away our illusions of uniqueness, of being one of a kind.
One should still avoid cliches like the plague, especially while writing, even though they are as old as hills and we may be rushed for time. However, all’s well that ends well.
“When I use a word, it means exactly what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”
–Humpty Dumpty in ‘Through the Looking Glass’
I love how the English language is so flexible. Of course there are rules, but there are also exceptions. And there are exceptions to the exceptions! These things bothered me no end when I was a child. Should it be ‘who’ or ‘whom’? How can the same word mean three different things when used in three different sentences? You know what I mean.
In fact, some things still confuse me. And many grammatical mistakes irk me no end (people using “your” instead of “you’re”, saying “literally” when they mean “metaphorically” or “figuratively”). However, I still love the fact that I can say something like, “I’m so technologically handicapped that I can’t even operate a hair-dryer without electrocuting myself”, and still make sense! (And if I’m still not making sense to you, ‘technologically handicapped’ isn’t really a thing.)
I think what Carroll was trying to say through Humpty Dumpty is that context is as important in English language as the rules of grammar. An example is his extremely famous poem ‘Jabberwocky’. An excerpt:
“Twas bryllyg, and ye slythy toves
Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe:
All mimsy were ye borogoves;
And ye mome raths outgrabe.”
The grammar and syntax are perfect, but the verse itself is nonsensical; yet we love the poem and understand it exactly how it’s meant to be understood. (Like Alice says after finishing the poem, “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate”)
Another fine example of the importance of context is Douglas Adams’ Vogon poetry from ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’:
“Oh freddled gruntbuggly
thy micturations are to me
As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.”
We might not know the meaning of the words, but we get the gist anyway; and we realize first-hand why Vogon poetry is the third worst in the Universe. (If you want to know the worst and the second worst poetry in the universe, read the book. I assure you it’ll be worth it.)
The fluidity and voracity of the English language is what makes it so universal. All the Grammar Nazis notwithstanding–and I confess I’m an occasional milder version, if there is such a thing, myself–that is the most interesting and fun thing about writing!
Like Alice, I might not always say what I mean, but “at least I mean what I say”!