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We have not heard the last ofthe diski, diksi, dixi dispute

By unknown | Dec 11, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

FOR all their power and scepticism, journalists and editors can be surprisingly easy to please.

FOR all their power and scepticism, journalists and editors can be surprisingly easy to please.

Having interacted with these special people as much as I have, I think I can, without being presumptuous say I have never seen hacks happier than when recounting congratulatory messages from readers whose lives they have changed for the better.

It could be anybody from a mother who finally gets a child grant after years of struggle and a customer who gets justice to a family that gets reunited with a loved one thanks to intervention by the media.

Personally, I derive much pride from hearing accomplished people tell how a newspaper has contributed to their education. Most of these people credit newspapers for their proficiency in English.

It is for this reason that I place a high premium on good subeditors - those unsung heroes of newsrooms. This is especially so given that many reporters and commentators do not have English as their mother tongue.

It takes a special breed of person to make a good sub-editor. Besides having to be experts with words and the use of language, they also need to be able to work accurately at breakneck speed.

Vast knowledge of almost any subject under the sun is essential.

Over and above that these supermen and women need to have inexhaustible patience to put up with the thankless job of cleaning up the mess left by sloppy reporters - sometimes long after the latter have gone home and switched off their cellphones.

Sadly, good traditional subs are increasingly becoming a rarity, with devastating consequences to quality. The industry-wide problem is more pronounced on some publications than others.

This sorry state of affairs is particularly worrying considering that it happens at a time of nation-building - a process in which respecting one another's languages and idioms plays no small part.

As if having to deal with 11 official languages is not enough, subeditors often have to grapple with the correct usage of slang.

Incidentally, I got the most enthusiastic and prompt response from editors this week. It concerned a quibble over the use of slang. Len Kalane, a retired editor, has taken issue with the use of the word "diski", tsotsitaal for soccer.

Says Kalane: "When I was growing up we used to say dixi or diksi, if you like.

"When I was still at Sowetan I met some oldies at a funeral who brought the diski thing up and the need to get this corrected".

Within minutes of soliciting comment from the Avusa brain trust of editors, soccer experts and tsotsitaal speakers, there was a flurry of spirited responses.

All of them insist Kalane got it wrong.

"Diski is indisputably diski, and that's how we've pronounced it from our young days," declared Sowetan's Len Maseko.

Sicelo Fayo from The Herald said a quick survey of the newspaper's newsroom showed "some elderly township folk" insist it's always been diski. "None are insisting the original slang word was necessarily correct, saying it might have been incorrectly pronounced due to youthful exuberance."

Sunday World's Charles Mogale declared: "The word (diski) is derived from disc (round, as in a ball) and, for all their bad press, our tsotsis sometimes get their grammar right."

I agree and am glad I can count on the collective institutional memory of the old hands, something which is increasingly lacking in newsrooms and the subs room.

Memory is indeed a weapon, as poet Don Mattera tells us. But it's important to bear in mind that even the sharpest sword can get blunt with time.

I bet you we have not heard the last of the dixi-diksi-diski argument.


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