Figuratively speaking

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Finger-pointing at the outsiders of Kuantan as a way of locating the cause of doubts, as the Pahang Chief Minister did, is as much a figure of speech as it can be a literal action, says Mustafa K Anuar.

Adnan Yaakob
Adnan Yaakob

Reading the news about Pahang Mentri Besar Adnan Yaakob teaching Bahasa Inggeris to his fellow Malaysians, particularly his critics, made me rush to my dog-eared dictionary to check on what “figure of speech” really means – because for a fleeting moment I had dreadfully thought that it was also synonymous with a particular hand gesture. But, alas, it was not the case.

This came about when, approached by reporters during the recent Umno general assembly, Adnan insisted that Barisan Nasional (BN) would not lose the parliamentary seat of Bentong, Pahang because of the controversial Lynas plant in the state. And it appeared that he was so cocksure that he promised to cut off his ears and jump into the Pahang River if rival DAP did win the seat in the forthcoming general election.

True to his confident self, he adroitly deflected criticisms against his arrogant remarks, which instantly became viral. Anyone proficient in the English language would have unconditionally concurred with him that his statement was indeed a figure of speech. Only those whose grasp of the language is weak — and there are many in our country as the Pahang gentleman would attest to it — would have missed his skilful use of English.

Adnan’s subsequent retort isn’t really an indication of a person who’s chickening out, metaphorically speaking. But given the kind of politics that prevails in our society, his detractors would predictably disagree with him till the cows come home — no conscious association with, or reference to, cows living in condos though.

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Students of English, be they in schools, colleges or universities, should take note of this incident as a lesson to be learnt. Clearly, Adnan has fallen victim to linguistic quibble. Surely they are aware that there are expressions in the English language where certain words cannot be taken literally. One should not see the word, I mean wood, for the trees.

Take the example of the expression “going the extra mile”. Adnan is correct in concluding that the long walk to Kuala Lumpur recently undertaken by the Kuantan folks, who staged a protest over the issue of the Lynas rare earth project, technically did not take place. He should know better than many of these walkers that “going the extra mile” is merely a figure of speech — and if you don’t get it, you’d stick out a mile. Furthermore, the mentri besar would also understand that a miss is as good as a mile.

And if one were to go the whole hog — and this is not being irreverent; I am not trying to attach the pig label to anyone — the possible industrial leakage that has become the deep concern of residents of Kuantan and around it, environmentalists, social activists and politicians is surely not the same as the sort of “leakage” expressed some time ago by the present Kinabatangan MP. Neither is the Kinabatangan notion the same as the “financial leakages” that have been bleeding the country dry.

Doubts about the safety of Lynas obviously have bedevilled the residents in the area notwithstanding the assessment conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This certainly isn’t a case of “it’s better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” because, as they say, the devil is in the details (and not the one with two horns and green in colour to boot).

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Finger-pointing at the outsiders of Kuantan as a way of locating the cause of these doubts, as Adnan did, is as much a figure of speech as it can be a literal action. The Pahang politician, whose forte is hand gestures, would know this better than anyone who thinks that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush! And here Heaven forbid those who even ponder whether to take this proverb literally.

Perhaps what is sorely needed here is for local leaders like Adnan to have a face-to-face meeting with the local communities in the area concerned so that what is articulated by the two parties does not fall on deaf ears. It is absolutely crucial that this issue at hand be addressed adequately. And, to be sure, we haven’t even started talking about body language here.

Some people may still insist that this brouhaha is the price to be paid for a politician like Adnan who has purportedly become cocky. I wouldn’t venture into this metaphorical area if I were you as the seasoned politician from Pahang may well spring into action yet again. You might just find yourself, consequently, losing your marbles.

This article first appeared in the Malaysian Insider

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