Nepali Nuances – III: Body Parts

– Dr. Sonam B. Wangyal

We dealt with ‘haat‘ and today we will continue to examine some other parts of our body. The Nepali tongue has many double words that add emphasis to the first one e.g., sato putlo, phuk phak, pit pat etc. Where our anatomy is concerned I have chosen a couple of double-worded general terms and the first one is ‘dublo patlo‘ which easily translates as lean and thin but it is a bit more wiry than that and is closer to meaning something like emaciated. The other is ‘patali putali‘ where the first word is a gender reverse of ‘patlo‘ and the second provides us with a choice between a butterfly and a doll. My choice, and probably yours too, is definitely the latter one because the accepted meaning of the compound word is a slender and beautiful woman, a doll-like creature, but a ‘butterfly-like slim woman’ does not sound too bad, does it!

Now on to some specific body parts: ‘Pate‘ (pronounced as in rate or mate) or stomach has its own nuances and we take on ‘pate palnu‘ which literally translates as nourishing the stomach but actually means to earn a living. Well our ancestors who coined this term and Napoleon who said, “An army marches on its stomach.” were both very much on the same wavelength for they knew how important it was to nourish the ‘pate‘ before anything else. No wonder our forefathers took the logic a notch higher by bequeathing us the term ‘pate kholnu‘. It does not mean to commit suicide and neither does it imply any surgical procedure but to, as the English speakers would say, spill it out, open up the heart. Yes, our ‘pate‘ is in the heart of everything and therefore our profoundest thoughts would come not from the bottom of the heart but from the bottom of our stomachs which the following phrase aptly illustrates: ‘Hami pate kholera bolnay manchay ho!’.

In the first of this Nepali Nuances series we dealt with the verb ‘katnu‘ and I mentioned ‘nak katnu‘ but there is more to it than a single poetic expression and an almost opposite meaning is implied by the term ‘nak thamnu‘ (uphold one’s nose) or preserve or guard one’s social standing. If you are capable of ‘nak thamnu‘ then, believe me my ‘nak phulcha‘ (nose will swell) or you will do me proud. The neighbouring ear is also not few, I mean ‘kamtiko chhaina‘. ‘Hati kanay‘ implies big ears and not elephant ears while ‘kanayguji‘ (guji = insect) does not mean insect in or of the ear but rather the wax in that orifice and the word ‘kanay‘, by itself, has nothing to do with the ears but surprisingly means a one-eyed person. Older people are used to saying ‘kanma tail halyo‘ meaning blocking the ears and therefore not heeding or not responding to a command or request. Some people claim that the actual meaning is ‘to keep silent’ (which probably is also the result of indifferent ears!). But to consider more familiar terms I would like us to mull over ‘kan khayo‘ or to irritate the ears through noise or words and when the irritations are of different nature we normally yell out, “Tauko khayo” and that would amount to something like ‘to get on the nerves’. To the person who gets on our nerves we often tell him/her off by saying, “Tero tauko!” which despite translating as ‘your head’ actually means “You blockhead (idiot, stupid)!”

Talking of ‘tauko‘ we have the famous term ‘ghantaukay‘. Most dictionaries translate the term ‘ghan‘ as ‘a large hammer sledge-hammer’ but I think the prefix ‘ghan‘ has no relation to a hammer but it just means what it is supposed to mean, big (cf.ghan kanu = to make a big sound, ghanandhakar = pitch dark, ghanera= excessive etc.) and so the word does not mean a sledge-hammer head as given by one the most famous dictionaries but simply big head, nut, cranium or skull.

At the opposite end of ‘tauko‘ is the ‘khutta‘ and with it is connected a marvelous expression, “khutta jhiknu“. It is almost opposite of ‘haat halnu‘ (to meddle) and suggests an act of total disassociation. My favourite for this week is ‘nang ra masu‘ denoting an intimate relationship. What could possibly be so closely related than the flesh and the nails and we are all aware of the soreness that can be caused when the two are separated. I wish that any relationship
you strike will be of the ‘nang ra masu‘ nature and hope the day will never arrive when you have to ‘chhati thoknu‘ in regret.

Ajako lagi dherai bhayo hola, abha ma khutta jhiknu paryo.

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