17 July 2023

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

This Sunday morning, as I write, Novak Djokovic (36) is yet to play for the Wimbledon men’s tennis title against 20-year old Carlos Alcaraz. The experts are backing Novak and rightly so, but they do not rule out an upset.

By the time this article is published, we will know if Novak has tied Roger Federer’s record for eight Wimbledon titles of if Carlos, finally, has signalled (at least) the beginning of the end of the Big Three Era (that’s the years and years and years in which Rafael Nadal, Roger and Novak himself dominated men’s tennis).

Tony Courseault, astute student of most sports, in particular basketball, Dulan Edirisinghe (former National Chess Champion and avid sports follower, soccer, basketball and tennis in particular) and I discuss these sports throughout the year. Right now it’s about Wimbledon. Tony agreed with me, ‘it could be a classic,’ but added ‘beginning of the changing of the guard.’

I said I don’t know who I want to win and he said he knew what I meant. Changing of the guard, yes, but there’s a part of me that wants old men to win, I said.

‘I want to see new blood, but history is being made every time Novak or Nadal makes the grand slam final,’ Tony said.

My response: ‘The Trinasty: Fed, Rafa and Novak.’

Tony liked that ‘portmanteau.’

It was the first time I heard the word, so I looked it up: ‘a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others, for example or brunch.ˆ’

It’s good to learn a new word everyday. For what it was worth, I checked the meaning of ‘dynasty’ for the first time. Apparently it’s derived from the Greek word ‘dunastēs’ which means ‘be able,’ later associated with family and power.

Novak, Rafa and Roger are like that. A family of sorts. Brothers who respect each other deeply even when they are sibling-rivalling. 'Trynasty' could make sense.

So I was thinking about words and remembered how the Sinhala political lexicon got a bunch of new words over the last thirty years. The collapse of the Soviet bloc, keener exploration of alternative radical utopias and greater awareness of postmodernism persuaded some people to coin new words so that some of the ‘new’ ideas (for the West) could be shared with people not too conversant in English.

Of course, all of those concepts were already there in Buddhist philosophy, but that’s another story. Prof Jayadeva Uyangoda, according to Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri, was one of the first to take on this task. Nirmal himself, along with Sunil Wijesiriwardena had come up with ‘Kathika’ for a cultural page they had compiled for the now defunct ‘Yukthiya’ newspaper, obtained from ‘Kathikaava.’  Deepthi Kumara Gunaratne of the ‘X Kandaayama’ and fellow ideological travellers like Rajith Perera and Rohan Perera as well as the linguist Wimal Dissanayake have all contributed. Few would know who coined these words or under what circumstances, but they are now commonly used in political discussions in all kinds of forums. Indeed, they are not taken as givens by more formal academics, i.e. those in the university systems.  

They are not portmanteaus, no. Sometimes words have to be coined. Sinhala text books, especially those compiled for subjects such as Science, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics etc., are full of tongue-twisters, words (perhaps hastily) ‘translated’ from English scientific dictionaries.

And then there are words that seem to have fallen from the sky; only they did not, someone, somewhere, on some occasion, for some reason came up with them. ‘Ablik,’ I remember from a poster about a play titled ‘Aney Ablik.’ Years later I thought it must be a corruption of ‘oblique.’ Kamal Addarraarachchchi had come to the same conclusion on his own.  

Words are fascinating things. Their etymologies tell us a lot of things about history and appropriation. They are for so many reasons the building blocks of language and therefore communication. Their multiple means empower poets as well as comedians. And politicians.

I still remember Wimal Weerawansa’s pithy two line post-mortem of the April 2010 General Election (from his perspective of course): ‘Ratata aadare ayate rata giyaa; badata aadare ayata bada giyaa.’ (The country went to those who loved the country, and those who loved their stomachs suffered diarrhoea — ‘bada giyaa' or, literally, ‘stomach went’ being the Sinhala colloquial term for ‘diarrhoea’).

I am not saying that those local postmodernists, self-styled following their peculiar reading of the leading figures of ‘new’ social theory, literary theory and postmodernism, are not word-fixated. They are not ‘wordaholics,’ but they’ve given us a lot and made it easier to discuss certain things.

Portmanteaus. A new word for me. Just tells me how sound and meaning give rise to words and therefore enriches literature.

Trynasty. There! I’ve tried. Tony appreciated it.  But it will not be picked up by the Wimbledon commentators tonight. Someday, maybe. And then no one will acknowledge. Just like we don’t know who came up with ‘Ablik.’  Or ‘oblique,’ for that matter!

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below] 

Other articles in this series: 

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

Poetry and poets will not be buried 

Sunny Dayananda 

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990) 

What makes Oxygen breathable?  

Sorrowing and delighting the world 

The greatest fallacy  

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi 

Beyond praise and blame 

Letters that cut and heal the heart 

Vanished and vanishing trails 


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya 

The soft rain of neighbourliness  

The Gold Medals of being 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri 

All those we've loved before 

Reflections on waves and markings 

A chorus of National Anthems 

Saying what and how 

'Say when' 

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra 

The loves of our lives 

The right time, the right person 

The silent equivalent of a thousand words 

Crazy cousins are besties for life 

Unities, free and endearing 

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!" 

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis 

The revolution is the song 

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins 

The day I won a Pulitzer 


Ella Deloria's silences 

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness 

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable  


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan 

Enlightening geometries 

Let's meet at 'The Commons' 

It all begins with a dot 

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation 

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone 

On sweeping close to one's feet 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts... 

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm 

Who really wrote 'Mother'? 

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing 

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed 

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember 

On loving, always 

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal 

When you turn 80... 

It is good to be conscious of nudities  

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday  

There's a one in a million and a one in ten 

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California 

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature 

Pathways missed 

Architectures of the demolished 

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts 

Who the heck do you think I am? 

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha' 

The Mangala Sabhava 

So how are things in Sri Lanka? 

The most beautiful father 

Palmam qui meruit ferat 

The sweetest three-letter poem 

Buddhangala Kamatahan 

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello 

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership 

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked 

Pure-Rathna, a class act 

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna 

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other 

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles 

Matters of honor and dignity 

Yet another Mother's Day 

A cockroach named 'Don't' 

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth 

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara 

Sweeping the clutter away 

Some play music, others listen 

Completing unfinished texts 

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn 

I am at Jaga Food, where are you? 

On separating the missing from the disappeared 

Moments without tenses 

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have) 

The world is made of waves 


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller 

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya' 

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist 

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses 

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced 

Some stories are written on the covers themselves 

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature 

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time  

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie 

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists? 

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords 

The books of disquiet 

A song of terraced paddy fields 

Of ants, bridges and possibilities 

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva  

World's End 

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse 

Street corner stories 

Who did not listen, who's not listening still? 

The book of layering 

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain 

The world is made for re-colouring 

The gift and yoke of bastardy 

The 'English Smile' 

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5 

Visual cartographers and cartography 

Ithaca from a long ago and right now 

Lessons written in invisible ink 

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness' 

A tea-maker story seldom told 

On academic activism 

The interchangeability of light and darkness 

Back to TRADITIONAL rice 

Sisterhood: moments, just moments 

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging 

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha 

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows 

Sirith, like pirith, persist 

Fragrances that will not be bottled  

Colours and textures of living heritage 

Countries of the past, present and future 

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched 

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains 

The ways of the lotus 

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace 

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville 

Live and tell the tale as you will 

Between struggle and cooperation 

Of love and other intangibles 

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions 

The universe of smallness 

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers 

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills 

Serendipitous amber rules the world 

Continents of the heart
The allegory of the slow road