Top 5 Pakistani terms that make no sense

Every country has its own colloquial language. But a common feature of colonial countries is that they tend to create a brand new language which consists of mixing English with their native tongue(s).  Here are a few examples of unique expressions that have come about as a result of translations, education and the local mindset.


# 5 – You tell

A conversation consists of a dialogue. But in Pakistan, it often comprises of a monologue. Why? Because upon greeting someone, you ask how they are. The implication is to start some form of small talk or if you’re really pushing it, a conversation. But when you’re faced with a reply that consists of  barely two words and they certainly don’t sound like “I’m fine” or “How’re you?”  you know you’re heading right into a monologue.

Which is when things really get interesting!

You see, its perfectly alright if someone does not wish to converse with you, but replying “Oh… you tell.” is just plain rude. I mean what is with the constant defensive attitude? Is it part of the Pakistani identity to be so defensive? Or is it more of “I’m-too-cool-for- you (but-failing-badly)” attitude? I reckon its probably a lack of thinking due to the nation’s obsession with politics.


# 4 – What isss…

This always leaves me perplexed. Why you ask? Well because of the question itself. But what so difficult about the question? Allow me to explain. The question is just that “What isss…” There is no subject, or article nor is it directed towards anything or anyone in particular. “What isss…”. You are left to figure out what is being asked of you and God forbid if you fail to answer appropriately – you run the risk of not being invited to that evening’s tea party.

And that idiot Tim Burton’s not invited.

The problem with this “What isss…” is that its often said by a beautiful lady too tired (hey looking after a beautiful husband, beautiful home which is cleaned by beautiful servants and beautiful nannies who literally bring up the beautiful children) to complete the sentence. Or so it seems. In reality its more of a case of the beautiful woman trying to figure out WHAT to ask about. This stems from a lack of conversation because if people responded with more than just a “You tell!” they might actually have something to ask about!


# 3 – Look at…

Similar to “What isss…” but slightly more obvious as “Look at…” is often accompanied by a flick of hair or a long finger pointing towards something. However that does not always point exactly what you are meant to “look at…”. This too runs the risk of becoming a social outcast if you don’t turn your head in the right direction or at the concerned issue, question, problem, woman, man, fashion designer, jalebi wala etc.

Of course if you’re smart enough (read: trained enough) to figure out “what isss…” that one is to “look at…” then you’re also expected to make the necessary comments. This can range from “oh vowww” when you’re asked to look at someone’s hair (whether it’s the hair cut or colour) or  a very sympathetic “hai hai” when a story concerning a particular act of evil that the in laws have conducted is being told. Again, the wrong reaction can result in you not being invited to the next kitty party.


# 2 – Oppose instead of opposite

In cities like Lahore, there are no road signs or boards pointing out where you have to go. For the locals it’s alright because they know their way around the city. But for non-locals who come to visit (if they’re mad enough to do so!) it can be problematic. Therefore, they then do what any non-local would do when they have to go somewhere – keep asking people on the road for directions.

Though it’s considered poor form to interrupt their skipping.

So far, so good. Pakistanis are generally friendly people and keen to help out so getting directions isn’t a problem. But the problem does lie in HOW those directions are given. Right, left and straight are pretty easy. But when it comes to telling someone that “oh it’s the building oppose to the road…” that one realises hang on a sec! OPPOSE??? Surely you mean opposite? No it’s “oppose”. I can only attribute this to years of brainwashing that concerns legitimate and sometimes imaginary enemies – we must “oppose” our enemies. Russians are out enemy, we must “oppose” them. Bengalis are our enemies, we must “oppose” them. India is our enemy, we must “oppose” them. Americans are our enemy, we must “oppose” them. The IMF is our enemy, we must “oppose” them. The dreaded in laws are the enemy, we must “oppose” them. The husband when he doesn’t give money is the enemy, we must “oppose” him.

With so many people to “oppose” even the guy asking for directions must be told to “oppose”.


# 1 – Loose (when they mean lose)

This is more of a spelling mistake than anything else. Yet it’s a mistake almost everyone is happy to make and worst of all, proud to make. It does not matter whether you show the word “lose” in the Oxford dictionary or even try to explain the difference – “loose is for loose motions… lose is for when you have LOST something”.

You could lose yourself in those!

Countless times I’ve corrected people on this only to be given a “what isss…” look – I’m assuming that at that point the question is more of a “what’s your problem?” rather than a “what is the correct spelling o’ oracle of all wisdom?”.

I’d ask but I like tea parties.



Categories: The World I Know

Author:Mehr F Husain

Mehr F Husain was Features Editor of The Friday Times. She lives out of a suitcase.


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One Comment on “Top 5 Pakistani terms that make no sense”

  1. Rabia
    July 23, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Excellent – like the rest of your work.

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