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Some words, or letters, in English have a multiplicity of meanings. One of those is ‘mo’. In the world of cryptic crosswords, enthusiasts will recognise ‘mo’ as a short version of ‘moment’. ‘Give me a mo,’ is an oft-heard expression. For those keen on its etymology, this usage apparently has its origins in the late 19th century.

Mo is also an abbreviation for ‘month’. In chemistry it is the symbol for molybdenum (an element that’s a favourite on quiz shows.) MO also stands for Money Order — a term that’s literally gone out of date, taking the exit door with ‘snail mail’. In the police world, detectives both real and fictional like Hercule Poirot have used MO to reference the Latin words Modus Operandi which in English as most of us know translates as ‘Method of Operating’. MO is also the abbreviation for Medical Officer.

Somehow, I think that a memo referencing all or some of the above could end up reading rather comic. I mean, ‘This mo [in the middle of June] the MO from Lawrence Hospital will deliver a talk on the MO of the villains who attempted to smuggle quantities of MO from a central laboratory but were thwarted in a mo, thanks to the alertness of a security guard. Those wishing to attend the talk can pay through postal order, or MO.’ Anyhow, enough with the sideshow. What I wish to point out is that here, in Australia, mo is also a short form for ‘moustache’. In keeping, of course, with every Aussie’s love for making a word as short as possible, the less energy to spend on speaking it. Australian men rarely grow moustaches, unlike their counterparts in the country I hailed from originally, India; and more particularly, their counterparts in the south of India, Tamil Nadu.

Over there, such a shortened term like ‘mo’ would be a serious insult to the efforts to grow something so long and luxurious. The mo, or moustache, back in TN, as it is with most parts of India, has to do with masculinity and virility. One of my early mates growing up was a young man thin as a stick — so thin that a tight hug might snap him in two. Well, he countered or compensated for this deficiency with a fine handlebar that would have made Harley (of Harley Davidson) very proud. And it made him proud, too, no doubt.

Movember movement

Although, to be honest none of us thought that it suited him one bit because it seemed like such an anomaly to the rest of him. But he persisted and thanks to the ageing process he ended up putting on some weight — a lot of it, as a matter of fact — so that, in the end, his physique was more or less proportionate with the large, greying moustache. Over here in Australia, though, come November, men all across the country start sprouting a generous amount of upper lip hair.

In fact, November in several instances begins to be referred to as Movember, associated with a movement to bring awareness to and change men’s health. It’s all a worthy cause and it’s pleasing to see so many men set aside their razors, jump on board and do their bit by growing a wide variety of moustaches (not all on the same face, of course!)

During Movember, being an avid watcher, I’ve spotted pretty much all the shapes that are on offer: the handlebar, the walrus, the toothbrush, the pencil, the lampshade, the pyramid, the painter’s brush, the imperial, the horseshoe, the Fu Manchu, the Dali and the Chevron. All of which led me to wonder whether our Indian men might at some point consider doing the opposite in the name of men’s health, too: that is, shaving off their moustache for one whole month in November. It can be called Nomo-vember. For a cause, a cause that has men’s health at heart, it’s certainly worth thinking about. I’d be happy to part with mine. 

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.