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Spelling and telling it right

Monday, September 25, 2017

The point of telling a story is the ending. The moral.

Sometimes the end falls out of a story. At times the beginning. Or middle. They have out of so many Caribbean stories, across waters, across tellers. Often, too, stories have more than one ending; but only a single one gets told. The storyteller’s job is the vigilance, or the imagination, that a story end right.

I have to tell my story again. Because the end of my story was the young man at the end. And, for whatever reason, he fell out of it. It is Mark Garceran’s story. One the 26-year-old told Live on Facebook walking home from the Brooklyn Museum under the steady rain meteorologists had forecast would fall from before Panorama’s scheduled start through the next morning. A painfully familiar story, set in a particular place.

One about steelband leadership, unpaid prize money, the competence of New York’s Carnival association, WIADCA. A group I realised, when Gemma Jordan announced bands weren’t being judged (where my story trailed off abruptly last week), would not be paying out US$40,000 to competing steelbands. A group whose contingency plan for the weather an official had whispered to me: Prayer.

And there, at the end of Panorama, on the frontline of WIADCA’s final disrespect, was this youth I recognised because, drying and drinking soup hours before, I’d viewed him ramble online for the full 15 minutes. Hitting notes he and Jahlani Roberts have over 10 months through Let Steelpan Ring. Follow them!

The moral of my long story wasn’t my frequent-flyer miles, the friends I stayed by, how gentrification dances and smells in a panyard, or even how soaked and policed I was. It was WIADCA’s breathtaking disrespect for young pan-players like Mark, who are its future. For fans like me, more of whom ought to be flying to Brooklyn to experience the brilliance of its pansides. And how a spectacular and shameless lack of accountability, which not even Pan Trinbago could pull off, by a group celebrating 50 years at it, mismanages yet another Caribbean Carnival.

It’s not often a head of government triggers a lexicographical crisis.

But in what may well be a well-honed art of political distraction, our husky PM managed yet another flamboyantly gendered utterance that has turned up the nation. Dogs, cats, bottom-holes, bedrooms, and now… Well, the Express used one M, two Ts. Loop did the opposite. Here at Guardian Media, CNC3 lined up with the UNC Women’s arm, doubling both. But this paper went rogue, adding an E before the nominalising suffix, and offering different variants in the same article.

I don’t mean to sound like a Pierrot. But how do you spell “jam(m)et(t)(e)ry”?

It’s not a satirical question; it’s a deeply genuine one. Forget fake oil. (Or “faked” oil, as language mavens might correct us; “fake oil” is real.) Forget misogyny. Forget boats. Forget the culturally amnesiac social media posters mocking the existence of the term.

The morality tale of Keith Rowley’s word of the week was about our language and how we—not he—dishonour it. About my continued frustration with what newsrooms do to our “demotic,” “creole,” “nation language,” as it’s variously called. The sad story that most media houses possess neither the Allsopps’ nor Lise Winer’s dictionaries, in the citations of which editors might notice that it’s newspaper usage of words like this that helps standardise our tongue.

The head of state occasioned a similar challenge in 2013. Over three days, Ria Taitt called his “Madam” interjection to Marlene McDonald across the Parliamentary chamber a boof, bouff, and then beouff.

Let’s continue spelling this story next week.


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