Groundviews

A-Z of Sri Lankan English: Z is for Z-score and zipperman

Image via Sri Lanka Guardian

There are only two Z-words that I have come across in SLE: Z-score and zipperman. Both are terms which are found in standard English, but which have particular meanings and associations in a Sri Lankan context.

The Z-score is the controversial system used to determine university entrance based on average A-level marks for each subject adjusted according to regional quotas. Z-score, or standard score, is a mathematical term referring to the calculation of the standard deviation from the mean. (There is also the “Altman Z-score” which is used to predict whether a firm will go bankrupt.) Here in Sri Lanka, the Z-score has become an emotive issue, with repeated accusations that the system is unfair, arbitrary and non-transparent. The issue has been reported on Groundviews, including under the headline “The Z-score imbroglio”.

Zippermen are men who expose themselves in public – ‘exhibitionists’ or ‘flashers’ in standard English. This meaning of the term seems to be unique to Sri Lankan English. (When Google put a zipper on their homepage last year, it was in homage to “zipper man” Gideon Sundback, inventor of the zipper.) Sexual harassment by zippermen is a common problem for schoolgirls, university students, factory workers, etc., as reported in an article in Options magazine a couple of years back.

I hope that the A-Z of Sri Lankan English has provided an insight into some of the many distinctive ways in which the English language is used in Sri Lanka. Please visit the website www.mirisgala.net for updates to A Dictionary of Sri Lankan English. And look out for the forthcoming book SET: a trilingual dictionary of colloquial Sinhala, English and Tamil.