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Friday, April 3, 2015

There's Just No Easy Way

“How do you say, in polite English, ‘Punta muna ako sa kubeta; taeng-tae na ako!’  (I have to go the toilet; I’m about to shit myself!)?”
In a (Philippine) website that deals mostly in computer parts and peripherals, there was this thread about English grammar. Presumably, the thread starter (commonly referred to in internet forums as the TS), who was one of the regulars of the aforementioned site, has trouble expressing himself in grammatically correct English. As the site is quite popular, and the site members come from diverse backgrounds, many contributed to that thread, and competently answered the TS’ and other posters’ questions regarding English grammar. The “English” thread, suffice it to say, was one of the site’s most active threads.
Anyway, the question quoted above was just one of many. I stumbled across it one afternoon a few months ago. It appeared that the poster works for a firm run by Americans. During one particularly unforgettable meeting with his American supervisors, he found himself in a predicament that necessitated the above-quoted question.

He apparently never forgot the helplessness and despair he felt when the first “rumblings” of trouble started deep inside his bowels, and discovering to his horror that he couldn’t just very well blurt out “Sandali, taeng-tae na ako!” to the white faces around him in the conference table. He had to think of a way to let his needs known in a tactful and polite way—and in English, to boot. Ultimately, he managed to avoid being embarrassed—that is, he avoided soiling himself—through sheer will, I suppose.
Determined to never again experience the horror and helplessness he felt in such a situation, he posted his question in the “English” thread of the site mentioned above. Just in case he needed to extricate himself again, no doubt.
One poster suggested this one: “Please excuse me; I have to go the comfort room.” However, other posters pointed out, correctly, that Americans are not familiar with the term “comfort room,” as used by Filipinos to refer to toilet. “Toilet” would be the most obvious word, and was suggested instead, along with other words that bordered on being flowery (to convey politeness, presumably) and all saying the same thing, i. e., going to the toilet.
I posted my observation that a person, in such a situation, has more things to worry about than grammar; that he still managed to concern himself about what words to use while in such a dire predicament is a testament to his, well, sphincter control.
Others would just probably bolt for the door.
Besides, other people in the room would already have an inkling of what was going on, as such a condition is usually betrayed by malodorous emanations.  Bolting for the door then would be perfectly reasonable. Embarrassing, sure, but the alternative is horrifying.
My toes curl at the thought of me suffering that unhappy fate.

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