Thursday, August 10, 2006

Sri Lankanisms - No 2 in an occasional series


A fucking great masterpiece of a word!

The closest comparison in English I can think of is "mate" but that doesn't really do justice to the beauty and all roundness of today's gem.

Of course the literal translation is "brother in law" but frankly bollocks to that, it is far more attractive than to be used only in the presence of a brother in law, particularly my one. I googled it recently and found out that there is a place in Malaysia, a place in China, a type of wood and and Yahoo group all called Machang. So, if you had a brother in law who owned a wood shop in a certain part of Malaysia, things could get awkward.

It can be chucked in as a substitute for "mate" but it has more friendly connotations; a customer would never be referred to as "machang" in Sri Lanka but many an idiot shop worker here in England will happily call a customer "mate". This is one of my pet hates and, as Prime Minister, my first major task would be to start a TV channel that showed nothing but re runs of The Persuaders, with Tony Curtis and Roger Moore as the multi millionaire playboys with wicked cars. Then I would pass a law to stop shop assistants and the like calling customers "mate". Then I'd go home and watch The Persuaders. I suppose that would be a decent second day at work by most people's standards. I say second day because I'd probably spend the first day tidying my desk and figuring out where to put all my drum stuff in 10 Downing St. There's probably a back room somewhere I could use but I hope the neighbours wouldn't have a problem with the noise. Our next door neighbour now is a nice deaf 80 something year old chap and, for a drummer, neighbours don't get much better.

Let's move back to the word of the day.

In Sri Lankan English it is a true term of endearment. I have been quite chuffed to have been called Machang on occasion but I've never mastered the art of using it on other people myself. It's one of those words that has to be said with a good Sri Lankan accent, something I don't possess. I don't possess a fish tank either but it hasn't affected my life too negatively. I guess it would if I wanted to keep fish. The mess would be dreadful as they slid over the floor until they died so I'd probably end up getting a tank. Or a pond. But I've already got one of them.

There are several conversations with various people during which I have chucked in a "machang", rather nonchalantly and the recipient hasn't baulked or stared at me with wide open eyes and a dropped jaw as I feel they should have. But it's a word that just doesn't come easy to my dreary South London voice. I can write it with the best of them but using it in anger makes me feel uncomfortable. Maybe that's because it really is a term of affection and is rarely used in anger.

I have been racking my brain trying to figure who, in England, I would call "machang" if they knew what it meant. That's a tough one and I can come up with about 2 or 3 people who aren't actually my brother in law. I might try and invent an English word that can be used in the same context. My first rule would be that it can't be used by the working classes on customers to claim familiarity.

Incidentally I just looked it up in the dictionary and it's not listed, there's a surprise! What is listed is the word "machan" which means

"(in India) a raised platform used in Tiger hunting"

Bet you didn't know that.

I must go now, I've got to invent a word.


sach said...

Very nice post. You'd be happy (or not, I don't know) to know that here in Sri Lanka girls also use the word machang and girls are also referred to as machang by both girls and guys. So it is in one sense the equivalent of mate.

But before that let me say this. Machang is God's gift to male bonding. Within 15 to 30 seconds of meeting each other for the very first time, most guys say machang and after that all is fine. I remember introducing my boyfriend to my best friend, which was awkward given that my best friend was my boyfriend a few years back. I was nervous as to how it would go but apparently there was nothing to worry about. It was machang from the start. Lol

I don't mind my friends calling me machang either. Especially at work when males and females work shoulder to shoulder, unconciously, machang puts everyone on equal footing (my metaphors are mixed up; shoulders and footing...sigh...please ignore that)

The meaning brother in-law comes from Tamil me thinks but I'm not sure. It can always be heard on Tamil movies so I guess I'm correct.

Wow. I never thought that so much could be said about "machang". I have more to say but shall stop now. Good writing from you, as always.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Thanks a lot Sach, but as usual your comment is far more eloquent than my post! I haven't come across girls using machang yet, I still feel uncomfortable when I hear girls using "mate" here. It just seems like a "blokey" term to me.

Sweet Idiot said...

I use 'machang'! :)

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Actually, now I think more, I've heard many a girl use it to refer to a bloke, just not to talk about another girl. Would that happen or is it only used when referring to men?

I crave that "girl on girl" action!

Theena said...

Heh..nice post. I agree with you and the first poster who said that it was God's gift to Sri Lankan males. Seriously, I've lost track of the number of times I called someone 'machang' to cover my inability to speak in Sinhala. When the person hears that, all awkwardness flies out.

A tip: when negotiating with taxi drivers in Colombo, throw in a few 'machangs' here and there. I've found that they reduce the fare at times :-o

In other news, I've accidentally called my girlfriend 'machang'. She laughed her ass off and threatned to beat me next time I said it :P

And...machang in Tamil has two meanings - cousin and brother in law. Of course, I am not the most qualified person to be making such statements so I shall verify this from my dad.


~CC~ said...

actually lot of shop ppl call machang to customers.. especially in the Computer-field :)..

ur right, its probably the best word in SL. has no language barriers.. so much so, that even foreigners will get used to it, if they happen to associate more than two sri lankan guys. :)

There's supposed to be a female variant of 'Machee' but u only hear it quite rearely if at all..


Savi said...

I say machang all the time, sometimes even to my mum..thankfully I have relatively cool parents, who know that love and respect go beyond words.

That being said,I think 'mate' is a more blokeish word in the UK.I've heard very few of my british girlfriends say 'mate'.'Dude' however, thanks to my very crazy american friends is very much used by both sexes.

There are times,when I'm in the midst of my more cultured british girlfriends, where I really try to watch I say. Looks like they seem to abhor many a four letter word!

In SL, on the other hand, words like machang(between 2 guys) or 'woman' between 2 girls, really help in the whole bonding experience. Guess we are much more relaxed and laid back on certain social etiquette in SL!

childof25 said...

always find it weird when girls call me machang...but that 'woman' cry between girls with the sL intonation always cracks me up...that said what would we do without machang

Sachintha said...

There is another 'variation' of machang, which is 'macho' (not English macho, of course - you have to pronounce it the Sinhala way).

And it is used in even closer friends. You wouldn't normally call that to a guy u just met...

But all in all, agreed that its a god sent thing! LOL