20 December 2011


Recently, I had to undergo a procedure in the hospital, and I was told that I should fast on the day of the procedure, from 1 pm onwards.

Now, what do you understand by that? My understanding was that I should not eat food, but I could drink as much as I liked. But when I arrived at the hospital, the nurse saw me drinking water, and I was then told that the procedure had to be postponed because fasting involves abstaining from water as well as food.

I just checked my New Webster's Dictionary, and this is what it says about fasting:I also checked my Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, and this is the entry:Both dictionaries confirm that fasting is about abstaining from food, but there is no mention of water.

The confusion arises because, in Brunei, during the month of Ramadan, all Muslims engage in puasa, which inolves abstaining from food and water from dawn till dusk; and in English this is described as fasting. In other words, there has been a shift in meaning of this word as it is used in Brunei English.

I now know that you cannot undergo an anesthetic if you have been drinking water, and if the nurse hadn't seen me drinking water, they would have gone ahead. In my case, there was no permanent damage, as the procedure was rescheduled. But I can imagine cases when this misunderstanding could be fatal.