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(Collection of English tips from HINDU daily paper from Jan 2005 to Jan
2009)
URL: www.hinduonnet.com/nic/kye
INTEGRATED BY
G.K.Mohanraj,
Program Analyst Trainee,
Cognizant Technology Solutions, Coimbatore,
99425 93682.
Write an e-mail to me: mohanr aj .kandasamy@cogni zant .com
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What is the meaning of "bury your head in the sand"?
( K. Praveen, Pune)
What happens when you ` bury' or ` hide' your head in t he
sand? The most obvious t hing is t hat you won' t be able t o
see anyt hing! I f you can' t see anyt hing, you will not know
what is happening ar ound you. When a person buries his
head in t he sand, he t ries t o run away from his problems; he
refuses t o even acknowledge t hat he has any. I nst ead of
t ackling t he problem, he deliberat el y ignores it . By t urning a
blind eye t o it , he hopes t hat somehow t he danger or t r ouble
will go away on it s own! I n ot her words, he is wishing it
away; he doesn' t want t o deal wit h it .
* You cannot cont inue t o bur y your head in t he sand. We
need a plan of act ion.
When an ost rich is in danger and doesn' t want t o be
det ect ed, it st ays low and st ret ches out it s long neck along
t he ground. People t hought t he bird was t r ying t o bury it s
head in t he sand - it wasn' t !
S. UPENDRAN
When do you use `how ever'?
( G. Jayant hi, Pune)
Don' t confuse ` how ever' wit h ` however' . ` How ever' occurs
most l y in quest ions. The word ` ever' is used t o give
emphasis t o various expressions. I t is used t o indicat e
surprise, admirat ion, anger, et c.
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* How ever did you manage t o get t he t icket s for t he movie?
The word ` ever' is used t o add emphasis t o t he quest ion.
Not ice t hat even wit hout t he word ` ever' , t he quest ions
would be grammat ically correct . According t o some scholars,
` how ever' in t hese quest ions has t he same meaning as "how
on eart h". "How on eart h did you get a j ob as t eacher ?"
"A man' s face is his aut obiography. A woman' s face is her
work of fict ion." - Oscar Wi l de
Why are street vendors sometimes referred to as
`costermongers'?
( I . Ranj ani, Chennai)
The word ` cost er monger ' is mainly used in Brit i sh English t o
refer t o someone who sells fresh fruit , veget ables and fish on
t he st reet . ` Monger' means ` seller or t rader' ; ` cost er' , on
t he ot her hand, is act ually a corrupt ion of an old English word
` cost ar d' , meaning ` apple' . A ` cost ardmonger' was someone
who sold apples
What is the meaning of the expression `no ifs and buts'?
( Bharanidharan, Sriperumbudur)
Very oft en when we t ell children t o do somet hing, t hei r
st andard reply is, "But can' t I do it lat er? I want t o wat ch t his
mat ch on TV! " - or somet hing like t hat . They always t ry t o
put t hings off, and t hey provide all kinds of excuses as t o
why t hings should be post poned. They will keep ar guing wit h
you t ill t hey are blue in t he face. When you t ell someone t hat
you don' t want any ` ifs and but s' , what you mean is t hat you
want t hem t o st op ar guing and do what t hey have been t old
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t o. I t ' s your way of t elling t hem t o get on wit h t heir j ob. You
don' t want t o hear any more excuses.
* I don' t want t o hear any ifs and but s. You are not wearing
t hat dress t o t he part y.
What is the difference between `obsolete' and `junk'?
( A. N. Manj unat h, Palakkad)
First , let ' s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion of ` obsolet e' . The first
syllable rhymes wit h ` sob' , ` cob' and ` mob' . The second ` o'
is like t he ` a' in ` china' , and t he final ` let e' rhymes wit h
` neat ' , ` beat ' , and ` meat ' . The main st ress is on t he final
syllable ` let e' . When you say t hat somet hing is ` obsolet e' ,
what you mean is t hat it has gone out of fashion; it is
out dat ed. I t is no longer required or no longer in use because
somet hing new and bet t er has t aken it s place. For example,
comput ers have made t ypewrit ers obsolet e; t he ` t onga' ,
which was quit e popular once upon a t ime, has become
obsolet e.
* We don' t have spare part s for your comput er. The model
has become obsolet e.
` Junk' , unlike t he word ` obsolet e' , is most ly used in informal
cont ext s. When you say t hat somet hing is ` j unk' , what you
mean is t hat it is wort hless. The obj ect is fit t o be t hrown
away. Somet hing t hat is new, but is of no value, can also be
called ` j unk' . ` Obsolet e' , on t he ot her hand, does not carry
t his meaning. The word merely suggest s t hat t he equipment
has become out dat ed - it could be an out dat ed piece of
equipment t hat st ill works. A piece of j unk, on t he ot her
hand, could be an out dat ed piece of equipment which may or
may not work. Eit her way, you want t o t hrow it away. Not
ever yone t hrows away an obsolet e piece of equipment .
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* You' ve had t hat scoot er for over 20 years now. Get ri d of
t he j unk.
"I t ' s clear ly a budget . I t ' s got a lot of number s in it ." -
Geor ge W. Bush
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of `three dog night'?
( R. Vasant h, Chennai)
According t o some scholars, t he expression comes from
Down Under . Cowboys spend a lot of t heir t ime out doors
looking aft er animals. During cold wint er night s when t he
t emperat ure dips, t he men oft en cuddle up wit h t heir dogs t o
keep warm. When it is slight ly cold, t hey need t he body heat
of only one animal t o keep warm; such a night is referred t o
as ` one dog night ' . When it becomes ext remely cold, t he
men may need t hree dogs t o keep warm. Such an ext remely
col d night is referred t o as ` t hree dog night ' . This pract ice of
embracing dogs for body warmt h was quit e common among
t he Aust ralian Aborigines.
* Take ext ra blanket s. According t o t he forecast , it ' s going t o
be a t hree dog night .
` Three Dog Night ' is also t he name of an American rock and
roll band. They were quit e popular in t he lat e 1960s and
earl y 1970s.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of `ne plus ultra'?
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( R. R. Prakash, Tir uchi)
The expression comes from Lat in, and it means, ` not furt her
beyond' . The ancient Greeks believed t hat t his was t he
expression t hat was inscribed on t he St rait of Gi bralt ar - t hen
called, ` Pillars of Hercules' . The inscript ion was meant t o
warn sailors not t o go any fur t her west war ds. I f t hey did,
t hey would be sailing int o unknown t errit ory - t he unchart ed
wat ers of t he At lant ic. Nowadays, ` ne plus ult ra' is used t o
mean t he highest level of excellence, somet hing t hat is close
t o perfect ion. The "e" in "ne" is pronounced like t he "ay" in
"way" , "hay", and "ray", while t he "u" in "ult ra" sounds like
t he "u" in "cut ", "hut " , and "but ". Here is an example.
* Bala' s career wit h t he organisat ion reached it s ne plus ult ra
when he was appoint ed Managing Direct or
Why do pilots shout `Mayday, Mayday' when they are in trouble?
( V. B. Mukund, Trissur)
When a pilot is in serious t rouble and wishes t o let air - t raffic
cont rol know t hat he has a problem, he usually shout s,
` Mayday, Mayday, Mayday' . The t erm is always shout ed
t hree t imes in a row. The expression ` Mayday' has been
used as an int ernat ional dist ress si gnal in radio
communicat ions since 1927. ` Mayday' has not hing t o do wit h
t he mont h of May. The expression comes from t he French
` m' aider' , which is t he shor t ened form of ` venez m' aider' ,
meaning ` come
What is the meaning of `Red-corner notice'?
( Praveen Kumar , Karaikal)
What happens when a criminal from I ndia evades arrest and
flees t o anot her count ry? How do we get t he person back so
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t hat he can st and t rial here? I n such cases, t he count r y get s
in t ouch wit h I nt erpol and asks it t o issue a Red- corner
not ice. I f t he government knows in which count ry t he
criminal is hiding, it asks I nt er pol t o issue t he Red- corner
not ice t o t hat count ry. A ` Red- corner not ice' is an arrest
warrant cir culat ed by I nt er pol on behalf of t he government of
a part icular count r y. I t is a request from one count ry t o
anot her t o arrest and deport t he want ed individual. I n t he old
days, we had ` want ed' post ers. Nowadays, we have Red-
corner not ices.
* I nt er pol issued a Red- corner not ice for t he gang leader in
2001.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of `snit'?
( G. G. Laxman, Mangalore)
When you are ext remely agit at ed or irrit at ed about
somet hing, you are said t o be in a snit . The expressi on ` in a
snit ' can also be used t o mean ` in an angry mood' . I t carries
t he suggest ion t hat you are being unreasonably angry or
annoyed. ` Snit ' is most ly used in informal cont ext s. As for
t he origin, no one is really sure where t he word comes from.
* The children were in a snit because I refused t o let t hem
wat ch t he mat ch.
What is the meaning and origin of the expression, `to be called
on the carpet'?
( R. Akash, Jaipur)
When you are called on t he car pet , you are usually
quest ioned by someone in aut horit y. I n most cases, you are
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rebuked and are hel d account able for a mist ake or an
offence.
* The st udent s were called on t he car pet for cheat ing in t he
exam.
I n t he old days, most offices did not have a carpet . Onl y t he
most import ant people in t he organisat ion were given one.
Theref ore, when you say t hat someone was called on t he
carpet , what you mean is t hat a person in a subordinat e
posit i on was called t o t he boss' room t o face t he music. The
person lit erally st ood on t he carpet while t he boss gave him a
piece of his mind.
How is the word `schedule' pronounced?
( Devashish Bora, New Delhi)
The word is pronounced different l y depending on which side
of t he At lant ic you are from. The Brit ish pronounce t he
` sched' like t he word ` shed' ; t he following ` ule' sounds like
t he word ` Yule' . The Americans, on t he ot her hand,
pronounce t he ` sch' like t he ` sk' in ` skip' and ` skin' . The ` d'
t hat follows sounds like t he ` j ' in ` j am' and ` j azz' . The final
` ule' rhymes wit h ` cool' and ` pool' . I n bot h cases, t he st ress
is on t he first syllable.
* Raj was disappoint ed because not hing went accor ding t o
schedule.
"The per fect love affair is one which is conduct ed ent irely by
post ." - G. B. Sh aw
What is the difference between `hat' and `cap'?
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( V. Prabhakar , Krishnagiri)
Bot h are used t o cover t he head of an individual. Caps
usually fit t ight ly around t he head, and t hey don' t have a
bri m - a flat edge t hat goes all ar ound a hat . A cap is
usually made of soft mat erial, and is equipped wit h a visor in
t he front . Hat s, on t he ot her hand, are grander t han caps.
They vary in shape and are usuall y worn on formal
occasions; caps are never worn t o official funct ions such as
st at e dinners. Bot h men and women have been wearing hat s
for a long t ime. I n fact , a couple of cent uries ago, a married
woman had t o wear a hat when she went out - t his was t o
let people know t hat she was mar ried. Single women, on t he
ot her hand, were allowed t o go hat less.
What is the meaning of `out of kilter'?
( G. Prassana, Mumbai)
The expression, most ly used in Brit ish English, has several
different meanings. When you say t hat a machine is out of
kilt er, what you mean is t hat it is not in proper working
order . I t is malfunct ioning.
* Our TV has been out of kilt er for t he past t wo weeks.
Ot her expressions which have more or less t he same
meaning are ` on t he blink' and ` out of whack' .
* Our old t ape recorders are out of whack. They need t o be
replaced.
When you say t hat someone' s opinion is ` out of kilt er ' , what
you mean is t hat it is different from t hose of ot her s.
* The president ' s views were out of kilt er wit h public opinion.
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As for t he origin, well, no one is really sure where t he
expression comes from.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the difference between `squirrel something away' and
`squirrel out of something'?
( N. Myt hreye, Chennai)
Squirrels spend most of t heir summer get t ing ready for t he
wint er. They gat her nut s and hide t hem away so t hat t hey
can eat t hem when food becomes scarce. So, when you say
t hat someone has ` squirreled somet hing away' , what you
mean is t hat he has hidden or st ored somet hing away in
order t o use it lat er on.
* I ' m t old t hat Raj esh has been squirreling away money for
several years now.
When you succeed in ` squirreling out of somet hing' , you
manage t o escape doing what you were supposed t o do. You
get out of a sit uat ion you do not wish t o be in.
* Babu will do anyt hing he can t o squirrel out of going t o t he
dent ist .
* List en t o me! You have t o do it . Don' t you dare t ry t o
squi rrel out of it .
"Life is like a dogsled t eam. I f you ain' t t he lead dog, t he
scenery never changes." - Lew i s Gr i zzar d
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning and origin of the idiom `dark horse'?
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( L. Balagopal, Hyderabad)
Wit h t he World Cup mat ches under way, t his idiom has
become very popular among sport s columnist s. When
Bangladesh defeat ed New Zealand in a warm- up mat ch, it
became t he dar k horse of t he t ournament . I n t he cont ext of
spor t s, when you say someone is a dar k horse, what you
mean is t hat ver y lit t le is known about t he person' s abilit y.
Since people don' t know how well t he individual plays,
chances are, he may end up surprising his opponent s - he
may even end up winning t he t our nament !
* According t o my favourit e columnist , t here are t wo or t hree
dar k horses in t he t ournament .
* Sanj ay is a dar k horse for a medal in t he 200 met res event .
The expression comes fr om t he world of horse racing. I
underst and t hat when placing a bet on a horse, punt ers
( people who bet on horses) t ake int o account t he animal' s
lineage and it s win- loss record. I f t his informat ion is not
available, t hen t he bet t ors have no way of knowing what t he
st rengt hs and weaknesses of t he animal are. They are kept
in t he ` dar k' about t he capabilit y of t he animal. Such a horse
is known as a ` dark horse' . The expression was first used by
Disraeli in his novel, ` The Young Duke' .
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning and origin of `white paper'?
( A. Raghava Rao, Hyderabad)
We oft en read in newspapers t hat t he government has issued
a whit e paper on some mat t er. A ` whit e paper' is an official
report , in which t he government out lines it s policy on an
issue of current concern. The report is usually not very bulky,
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and it is made available t o t he public. Such a report began t o
be called ` whit e paper' because it was bound in paper of t hat
col our . A couple of weeks ago, a j udge said t hat corrupt
individuals must be hanged from lamp post s. Since t here are
some people of quest i onable reput at ion in Parliament , it
would be int erest ing t o see if t he government brings out a
whit e paper regar ding t his mat t er .
S. UPENDRAN
What is the opposite of `feminist'?
( M. Raj esh, Trichy)
A feminist , in simplist ic t erms, is someone who advocat es
equal right s for women. A man who believes t hat men should
have t he same right s as women is called a ` hominist ' . This is
not a new word. Geor ge Bernard Shaw coined it in 1903 in
his preface t o ` Man and Superman' . Anot her word t hat is
commonly used now is ` masculinist ' .
S. UPENDRAN
Is it OK to say, `It was a good movie indeed'?
( K. Jayaraman, Kozhikode)
We oft en hear sent ences like t his. People who are fond of
grammar , however , would frown at such a sent ence. They
would ar gue t hat t he sent ence would have been
grammat ically accept able if t he word ` indeed' had come
immediat ely aft er t he verb ` was' - ` I t was indeed a good
movie' . Similarly, it is OK t o say, ` The behaviour of t he
st udent s was indeed bad' , but not ` The behaviour of t he
st udent s was bad indeed. ' I f you wish t o have ` indeed' at t he
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end of t hese sent ences, t hen you need t o put t he word ` ver y'
in front of t he adj ect ive good/ bad.
* I t was a very good movie indeed.
* The behaviour of t he st udent s was ver y bad indeed.
"The only ` ism' t hat Hollywood believes in is plagiarism." -
Dor ot hy Par k er
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of `murfing'?
( C. Ashok, Vellore)
Very oft en when we surf t he Net for infor mat ion, we end up
visit ing sit es t hat we don' t really need t o. We spend a lot of
t i me moving from one sit e t o anot her because we find t he
cont ent s rat her int erest ing - t hough t hey may not provide
us wit h t he informat ion t hat we act ually need! This aimless
surfing of t he Net t hat we indulge in is called ` murfing' .
* Uma spent t he aft er noon mur fing ` diabet es' , and ended up
learning more about dowry deat hs.
Today, t he word has t aken on an addit ional meaning.
` Murfing' is seen as a combinat ion of ` mobile' and ` surfing' .
Wit h advances in t echnology, it is now possible t o surf t he
Net on your mobile phone.
S. UPENDRAN
How is the word `brusque' pronounced?
( T. I ndumat hi, Bangalore)
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There are different ways of pronouncing t his word. The
Americans pronounce t he ` u' like t he ` u' in ` cut ' , ` hut ' , and
` but ' , while t he Brit ish pronounce it like t he ` oo' in ` cool' ,
` fool' , and ` pool' . The final ` que' , in bot h cases, is
pronounced like t he ` sk' in ` mask' , ` t ask' , and ` flask' . When
you say t hat someone' s behavi our is ` brusque' , what you
mean is t hat t he person is rat her curt - in ot her words, rude
or rough. The per son doesn' t say much, but when he speaks,
he sounds rude.
* Don' t worry! I ' m not going t o be put off by his brusque
replies.
The word ` brusque' comes from t he I t alian ` brusco' meaning
` sour' or ` shar p' . The same word was also used t o refer t o a
prickly plant ( ` but cher' s broom' ) . Perhaps it was in t his
sense t hat ` brusque' was used when it was borrowed int o
English - someone as disagreeable as t he but cher' s broom.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of `nook and cranny'?
( J. Kart hick, Nellore)
The word ` nook' rhymes wit h ` hook' , ` book' , and ` cook' .
Since t he 14t h cent ury, t he word has been used t o refer t o a
remot e corner or secluded spot . The ` a' in ` cranny' is like
t he ` a' in ` apple' , ` ant ' , and ` add' . A ` cr anny' is a crack or
an opening of some kind - for example, a crack in t he wall
can be referred t o as a ` cranny' . When you say t hat you
have looked for somet hing in every nook and cranny, what
you mean is t hat you have looked for it everywhere.
* The children looked for t he ball in every nook and cranny,
but t hey coul dn' t find it .
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S. UPENDRAN
What is the difference in meaning between `sicken at' and `sicken
of'?
( C. Bindu, New Delhi)
Somet imes, t he very t hought of somet hing makes you sick;
you are hor rified or repulsed by it . That ' s what t he
expression ` sicken at ' means.
* The children sickened at t he idea of having t o clean public
t oilet s.
When you ` sicken of' somet hing, you get bored or t ired of it .
I n ot her words, you get sick of it . I t is also possible t o sicken
of a person.
* Many st udent s were beginning t o sicken of t he st rike.
"All t he t hings I really like t o do are eit her immoral, illegal, or
fat t ening." - Al ex ander Wool l cot t
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning and origin of `make no bones about it'?
( B. Raghvender, Vishakapat nam)
When you say t hat someone makes no bones about
somet hing, what you mean is t hat t he person is ver y frank
about it ; he speaks plainly, and does not at t empt t o hide t he
t r ut h. For example, if a per son makes no bones about a
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scandal in his past , he t alks about it candidly - at t imes,
leaving t he list ener embar rassed!
The t eachers made no bones about t heir dissat isfact ion wit h
t he cont ent s of t he art icle.
Radha made no bones about her disli ke for crossword
puzzles.
Some scholars believe t hat t he idiom comes from games
played wit h ` dice' . During t he early 14t h cent ur y, dice were
made from bones; t herefore, it comes as no surprise t hat t he
slang t erm for t hese small cubes was ` bones' . I underst and
t hat even t oday, it is common pract ice among gamblers t o
t alk t o t heir dice and blow kisses on t hem before t hr owing
t hem on t he t able. When a person makes ` no bones about
it ' , he rolls t he dice wit hout really doing any of t hese t hings.
I n ot her words, he doesn' t plead wit h t he dice t o give him a
par t icular number. This is j ust one of t he explanat ions for t he
ori gin of t he idiom.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning and origin of `make no bones about it'?
( B. Raghvender, Vishakapat nam)
When you say t hat someone makes no bones about
somet hing, what you mean is t hat t he person is ver y frank
about it ; he speaks plainly, and does not at t empt t o hide t he
t r ut h. For example, if a per son makes no bones about a
scandal in his past , he t alks about it candidly - at t imes,
leaving t he list ener embar rassed!
The t eachers made no bones about t heir dissat isfact ion wit h
t he cont ent s of t he art icle.
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Radha made no bones about her disli ke for crossword
puzzles.
Some scholars believe t hat t he idiom comes from games
played wit h ` dice' . During t he early 14t h cent ur y, dice were
made from bones; t herefore, it comes as no surprise t hat t he
slang t erm for t hese small cubes was ` bones' . I underst and
t hat even t oday, it is common pract ice among gamblers t o
t alk t o t heir dice and blow kisses on t hem before t hr owing
t hem on t he t able. When a person makes ` no bones about
it ' , he rolls t he dice wit hout really doing any of t hese t hings.
I n ot her words, he doesn' t plead wit h t he dice t o give him a
par t icular number. This is j ust one of t he explanat ions for t he
ori gin of t he idiom.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of `mealy mouthed'?
( K. Suresh Kumar, Srivilliput t ur)
We oft en meet people who are hesit ant t o say what is on
t heir mind. When somet hing unpleasant happens, t hey refuse
t o speak plainly or openly about t he mat t er. When you say
t hat someone is ` meal y mout hed' , what you mean is t hat t he
individual is not frank or sincere. He is not brave enough or
honest enough t o speak his mind. The t erm is nor mall y used
t o show cont empt for an individual.
* Jai is a young, mealy- mout hed polit ician t hat people j ust
love t o hat e.
Food t hat is dry and powder y is oft en refer red t o as being
` mealy' . So when you say t hat someone is ` mealy- mout hed' ,
what you mean is t hat t he person has somet hing dry and
powdery in his mout h. He is t herefore unable t o speak
clearly. According t o scholars, t he expression comes from t he
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German ` Mehl im Maule behalt en' , meaning ` t o carry a meal
in t he mout h' .
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning and origin of `to read the riot act'?
( J. Sandhya, Hyderabad)
When you read someone t he riot act , what you are doing is
giving him a severe scolding. You are angrily t elli ng t he
individual t hat if t he same t hing happens again, he will get
int o serious t r ouble.
* List en, you guys! I f you don' t clean t his mess up, t he coach
will read you t he riot act .
The Riot Act was a law t hat came int o effect in Brit ain in
1715. This law had t o be passed because of t he unst able
poli t ical sit uat ion in t he count ry. The Riot Act made it illegal
for 12 or more people t o assemble in public places.
Whenever a group gat hered, it was t he j ob of t he Magist rat e
or t he policeman t o st and in front of t he cr owd and read
al oud t he Act . I f t he people did not disperse aft er hearing t he
proclamat ion, t hey were arrest ed and put in prison,
somet imes for several years!
S. UPENDRAN
Is it OK to say, `It costs very much money'?
( R. Prem Kumar, Mysore)
No, it isn' t . Normally wit h ver bs like ` cost ' , ` eat ' and ` pay' ,
we generall y don' t use ` very much' - especially in affirmat ive
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sent ences. We cannot say, ` I at e ver y much ice cream' or ` I
had t o pay very much' . We normall y use ` a lot ' wit h t hese
ver bs. For example, we say, ` I at e a lot of ice cream' , ` I had
t o pay a lot in t axes' , and ` The new TV cost s a lot ' . I t is,
however, possible t o use ` very much' wit h t hese ver bs in
quest ions.
Did t he new TV cost ver y much?
Did you have t o pay ver y much as rent ?
One can also use ` cost ' and ` pay' wit h ` very much' in
negat ive sent ences. For example, it is grammat ically
accept able t o say, ` I t doesn' t cost ver y much' and ` You don' t
reall y have t o pay ver y much.'
S. UPENDRAN
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What is the difference between `odorous' and `odious'?
( Shakunt hala, Chennai)
When you say t hat someone is ` odi ous' , you are implying
t hat t he person is ext remely unpleasant . The individual
deserves our cont empt and hat red. The word is normally
used in formal cont ext s, and can be used wit h t hings as well.
* Rit u is cert ainly t he most odious t eenager t hat I ' ve ever
met .
The word ` odorous' is relat ed t o ` odour' , meaning ` smell' .
When you say t hat somet hing is ` odor ous' what you mean is
t hat it has a st r ong and dist inct ive smell. The smell can be
eit her pleasant or unpleasant .
20
"The wor d ` polit ics' is der ived from t he wor d ` poly' meaning
` many' , and t he word ` t icks' , meaning ` blood sucking
parasit es' ." - Lar r y Har dman
S. UPENDRAN
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What is the meaning of `wimpy'?
( B. Yogesh, Chennai)
When you call someone a ` wimp' , you mean t hat he is a very
weak and t imid individual; he is spineless. Ot her words t hat
have more or less t he same meaning are ` drip' and ` wuss' .
* Don' t be such a wimp, Raj u. Just go ahead and t ake t he
plunge.
* How can you ask someone wimpy like Kart hick t o be t he
next President ?
The expression ` wimp out ' is being used nowadays in
informal cont ext s t o mean t he same t hing as ` chicken out ' .
When you ` wimp out ' of doing somet hing, you get out of
doing it because you are very scared.
* Sagar said t hat he would go bungee j umping wit h me. At
t he last minut e, he wimped out .
* I f you' re serious about doing it , let me know. I don' t want
you t o wimp out .
According t o some scholars, t he word ` wimpy' comes from
t he word ` whimper' . Ot hers believe t hat it comes from t he
name of a charact er in a well- known cart oon show, ` Popeye' .
J. Wellingt on Wimpy, affect ionat ely called ` Wimpy' , is
21
Popeye' s friend. Unlike t he st ar of t he show, t here' s not hing
heroic about t his roly- pol y charact er . Wimpy is spineless; he
never part icipat es in any of t he fight s t hat Popeye is
const ant ly get t ing himself int o. The only t hing Wimpy enj oys
doing is eat ing hambur gers! "I ' d gladly pay you t omorrow for
a hamburger t oday" is his favourit e line.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of `subaltern'?
( Renj it h, Bangalore)
I t means ` subordinat e' . The word was originally a t er m used
in t he army t o refer t o any commissioned officer below t he
rank of a capt ain. I n Brit ish English, t he ` a' and t he ` e' are
pronounced like t he ` a' in ` china' , and t he main st ress is on
t he first syllable. I n American English, t he ` u' and t he ` e' are
like t he ` a' in ` china' , and t he ` a' is like t he ` au' in ` aught '
and ` caught ' . The main st ress, in t his case, is on t he second
syllable. Nowadays, t he t erm is used t o refer t o t he
underprivileged or t he disadvant aged.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the difference between `impulsive' and `compulsive'?
( N. Jayashree, Madurai)
Some people are compulsive liars. What t his means is t hat
t hese individuals are addict ed t o lying; t hey j ust cannot st op
lying. Lying is an obsession for t hem. Similarly, a person who
is a compulsive gambler has t o gamble; he cannot refrain
from gambling. Even when he has run up a huge debt , he will
22
beg, borr ow or st eal money and cont inue t o gamble. He will
be unable t o kick t he habit .
* I t was during t he honeymoon t hat he realised t hat his wife
was a compulsive eat er.
Somet hing t hat you do ` impulsively' , you do spont aneously.
When a fast bowler bowls a bouncer , most bat smen
impulsivel y duck. You may lie impulsively on an occasi on;
t his doesn' t mean t hat you lie all t he t ime. I n ot her words,
you are not a ` compulsive liar' . You are not const ant ly
t hinking about lying - it j ust happens. A compulsi ve smoker
or gambler const ant l y cr aves for t he t hings t hat he is
addict ed t o.
"A woman' s mind is cleaner t han a man' s. She changes it
more oft en." - Ol i ver Her f or d
What is the meaning and origin of the idiom "let the chips fall
where they may"?
( M. Ramakant h, Mumbai)
This is an expressi on t hat is most ly used in American English.
When you say ` let t he chips fall where t hey may' , what you
mean is, do what ever you have t o do wit hout worrying t oo
much about t he consequences of your act ion. I n ot her words,
do t he right t hing and don' t worry about t he fallout . Let
t hings happen nat urally; do not make an at t empt t o t ry t o
cont rol everyt hing.
* The minist er said t hat he would speak from t he heart , and
let t he chips fall where t hey may.
The ` chips' has not hing t o do wit h t he chips we normally eat .
This idiom comes from t he world of logging. When you chop
down a t ree using an axe, every t i me you hit t he t ree, pieces
23
of wood ( chips) scat t er. While you are cut t ing, you do not
worry about t he vari ous chips flying ar ound; you don' t really
care where t hey land. As a cut t er, you remain focussed on
t he t ask at hand - which is t o chop down t he t ree.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the difference between `noticeable' and `notable'?
( S. Narender, Kanpur)
When you say t hat somet hing is ` not iceable' , what you mean
is t hat it is apparent . I n ot her words, it is obvious; it can be
seen or ` not iced' by ot hers.
* There is a not iceable improvement in t he champion' s
backhand.
* What is not iceable is t hat t he t wo brot hers j ust can' t st and
each ot her.
Anyt hing or anyone t hat is import ant or int erest ing is
` not able' . The word is nor mally used wit h people who are
well known. I t can also be used t o refer t o t heir impressi ve
accomplishment s.
* Winning t he Grand Slam t wice is one of his not able
achievement s.
` Not ables' is nor mall y used t o refer t o import ant or power ful
people.
* Many of t he local not ables decided t o st ay away from t he
event .
S. UPENDRAN
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What is the meaning of `chatterati'?
( B. Devidas, Chennai)
` Chat t erat i' is a combinat ion of ` chat t er' and ` lit erat i' . The
word ` lit erat i' , as you probabl y know, refer s t o t he educat ed
people who t ake a great int erest in lit erat ure. ` Chat t erat i' is
a t er m used by j ournalist s t o refer t o people ( columnist s, t al k
show host s, self- proclaimed pundit s, et c) who love let t ing t he
world know what t heir opinion on somet hing is - it doesn' t
reall y mat t er t o t hese people whet her or not t hey know
anyt hing about t he subj ect being discussed! Needless t o say,
t he word is used t o show disapproval.
* What does t he chat t erat i have t o say about t he new policy?
"Asking a working writ er what he t hinks about cr it ics is like
asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs." - Ch r i st opher
Hampt on
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning and origin of the expression `to curry
favour'?
( R. Revat hi, Coimbat ore)
When you ` curr y favour wit h someone' you t ry t o gain a
person' s approval by making use of flat t ery. You at t empt t o
win t he individual' s support by t alking t o him rat her polit ely,
very oft en resort ing t o insincere praise. The expression is
nor mall y used t o show disapproval.
* Pr akash is t r ying t o curry favour wit h his uncle again.
The ` curry' in t he expression has not hing t o do wit h t he
curry we eat . This curry comes from t he worl d of horse
25
ri ding. People who t ake care of hor ses make use of a ` curr y-
comb' t o rub t he animal down. I t is from t his, t hat we get t he
expression ` t o curry' , meaning ` t o groom a horse' . I n ot her
words, t he ver b ` t o cur ry' means t o rub down a horse. The
word ` favour ' in t he idiom has got not hing t o do wit h t he
favour we know. I t is, in fact , a cor rupt ion of t he French
name ` Favel' ( also spelt ` Fauvel' ) . Favel is t he name of a
cunning cent aur t hat appears in a French st ory writ t en in t he
14t h cent ur y. A ` cent aur' , as you probably know, is an
animal t hat is half man and half hor se. I n t he st ory, people
who want ed t o be on t he good side of t he evil Favel , used t o
flat t er him and also rub him down. I n ot her words, t he
charact ers in t he st ory used t o ` curr y Favel' . I n fact , t he
ori ginal expression was ` t o curry favel ' . Since ` favel'
sounded like ` favour' , nat ive speakers of English st art ed
saying, ` t o curry favour' .
S. UPENDRAN
Which is correct? `Enter a room' or `Enter into a room'?
( C. Dilip, Mysore)
When you walk int o a room, you ` ent er' it . You do not ` ent er
int o' it . You normally ` ent er' a room, building or count ry.
* As usual, Chandru ent ered t he room wit h a smile on his
face.
* The st udent wasn' t allowed t o ent er t he count ry wit hout a
vali d visa.
` Ent er int o' is nor mall y used in rel at ion t o ` conversat ion' ,
` agreement ' , ` discussi on' , et c. This is j ust one of t he ways of
using t he expression.
26
* Aft er t hree days of fight ing, t he t wo companies ent er ed int o
an agreement .
* I hope t o ent er int o a discussion wit h t he leaders of t he
st rike.
S. UPENDRAN
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What is the difference between `backward' and `backwards'?
( A. Nagender, Tiruvannamalai)
I n t erms of meaning, t here is no difference. For example,
you can say, ` The absent minded professor had put his shirt
on backwar ds. ' I t is also possible t o use ` backward' in t he
sent ence. The Brit ish generally t end t o use ` backwards' ,
while t he Americans use ` backward' . I t is very much like t he
use of t he words ` t oward' and ` t owar ds' . Americans prefer
` t oward' , while t he Brit ish favour ` t owards' . When used as
an adj ect i ve ( t hat is when used before a noun) , however , you
can only use ` backward' . I n t he sent ences given below, we
cannot use ` backwards' .
* The children wal ked out t he cave wit hout a backward
glance.
* Sandhya t ook a couple of deep breat hs before doing her
t hree backward flips.
"I have never married because I have t hree pet s t hat answer
t he same purpose as a husband. I have a dog t hat growls all
morning, a parrot t hat swears all aft ernoon, and a cat t hat
comes home lat e at night ." - Mar i e Cor el l
27
S. UPENDRAN
Is it OK to say, `Irregardless of what you say, I plan to marry
him'?
( V. Laya, Hyder abad)
` I rr egardless' is a word t hat has caused a great deal of
cont roversy. I t has t he same meaning as ` regar dless' ; it is a
word t hat is most ly used in informal cont ext s in America
English. According t o expert s, it is a blend of ` irrespect ive'
and ` regar dless' . The wor d is considered non- st andar d, and
hence not all dict ionaries include it . This is because t he word
` i rregar dless' consist s of t wo negat ives; t he prefix ` ir ' means
` not ' , and t he suffix ` less' means ` wit hout ' . Avoid using t he
wor d.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of `devil-may-care-attitude'?
( Kart hikeyan, Chennai)
A person who has a very casual at t it ude about t hings in
general is said t o have a devil- may- care at t it ude. This
individual is rat her carefree, and doesn' t get t erribl y worked
up if t hings don' t go accor ding t o plan. He is rat her reckless
and doesn' t really worr y about t he consequences. The
expression is considered t o be rat her old fashioned. I t is also
possible t o say, ` devil- may- care manner' .
* When it comes t o his st udies, Sandeep has a devil- may- care
at t it ude.
S. UPENDRAN
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What is the difference between `murder' and `manslaughter'?
( Bharat h, Chennai)
I n bot h cases, you perform an illegal act ; you end up t aking
someone' s life! When you ` murder ' someone, t he act of
kill ing t he individual is deliberat e or int ent ional. Usually, it is
planned, and is carried out in a col d- blooded manner. I t is for
t his reason t hat t he punishment for murder is very severe. I n
t he case of manslaught er, t he act of killing may or may not
be int ent ional. You could end up kill ing someone quit e
accident ally. I f your kill your aunt or uncle because you want
t heir propert y, t hen it is mur der. I f you run over a
pedest rian, it is manslaught er. When you kill someone in
sel f- defence, it is manslaught er, and not mur der .
* The mur ders in Noida have upset many people in our
count ry.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of the word `affability'?
( Sudhesh Raj pal, Palampar)
First , let ' s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion. The first ` a' is
pronounced like t he ` a' in ` cat ' , ` bat ' , and ` hat ' . The ` a' in
t he second syllable is like t he ` a' in ` china' ; and t he final
` bili t y' is like t he ` bilit y' in ` abili t y' , ` capabilit y' , and
` st abilit y' . The main st ress is on t he t hird syllable ` bi' . A
person who is ` affable' is very pleasant and friendly. Such a
person is usually very court eous whenever he t alks t o
someone.
29
* Many st udent s find t he new t eacher' s affabilit y ver y
irrit at ing.
"Some are born great , some achieve great ness, and some
hire P.R. officers." - Dani el J. Boor st i n
S. UPENDRAN
W h a t i s t h e m e a n i n g a n d o r i g i n o f ` b e c k a n d c a l l ' ?
When you ar e at someone' s `beck and cal l' , you do what ever he want s you
t o. In or der t o pl ease t he i ndi vi dual , you r emai n sl avi shl y at t ent i ve t o al l hi s
needs; t he person' s wi sh i s your command.The young pr i nce was at hi s
wi f e' s beck and cal l.
Ther e ar e a f ew r epor t er s we know who ar e at t he mi ni st er ' s beck and cal l .
The wor d `beck' is act ual l y t he shor t ened f or m of `beckon' . A `beck' is
usual l y a si l ent signal t hat you gi ve someone i n or der t o dr aw hi s at t ent i on.
The si gnal coul d be a si mpl e nod of t he head or t he mot i oni ng of one' s
f i nger . Who ar e t he people who pay a gr eat deal of at t ent i on t o an
i ndi vi dual ' s head and hand movement ? Ser vant s, of cour se! In t he ol d days,
ser vant s wer e at t heir mast er ' s beck and cal l . A mast er coul d get a ser vant
t o do hi s bi ddi ng in t w o di f f er ent w ays he coul d ei t her `cal l ' t he ser vant or
`beckon' hi m.
30
Does t he wor d `cybr ar i an' exi st ?
Yes, t he w or d `cybr ar i an' does exi st ; i t ' s been ar ound f or mor e t han a
decade. The wor d i s a combi nat i on of `cyber ' and `l i br ar i an' . A `cybr ar i an' i s
someone w ho makes use of t he Int er net as a r esour ce t ool . Hi s j ob i s t o be
i n t he know as t o w hat i s avai l abl e on t he w eb; he f i nds, col l ect s, and
manages w hat ever mat er i al i s avai l abl e on t he Net .
31
* Yukt i const ant l y sur f s t he Net because i t ' s par t of her j ob. She' s t he new
cybr ar i an.
What is t he meani ng of `apt onym' ?
Somet i mes, an i ndi vi dual ' s name cor r ect ly descr i bes hi s occupat i on. Thi s
cor r espondence bet ween t he name and occupat ion i s an apt onym. John
Const abl e (pol i ceman), M ar i e House (r eal est at e agent ), Ray St r ike (uni on
l eader ), and John Cut t er (but cher ) ar e exampl es of apt onyms.
" The di f f er ence bet ween a bad ar t i st and a good one i s t he bad ar t ist seems
t o copy a gr eat deal ; t he good one r eall y does." Wi l li am Bl ake
Is t her e such a w or d as `aut o dent i st ' ?
Yes, t he wor d does exi st ; i t has been ar ound f or a f ew year s now. You may
be sur pr i sed t o know t hat t he wor d `dent i st ' i n t his case does not r ef er t o
t he doct or who l ooks af t er peopl e' s t eet h! As you wal k al ong t he r oad and
l ook at t he var i ous parked car s, scoot er s and mot or cycl es, what i s it t hat
st r i kes you? What i s it t hat t he vehi cl es have i n common? M ost of t hem
have `dent s' ; t her e ar e ver y f ew car s i n Indi a t hat do not have dent s. An
`aut o dent i st ' i s someone who r epai r s t he dent s and ot her mi nor damages i n
car s. Aut o means `car ' and `dent ist ' means `one who r epai r s dent s' .
What is t he meani ng of `pul l t he r ug f r om under someone' s f eet ' ?
someone wer e t o pul l t he r ug on whi ch you ar e st andi ng, what do you t hi nk
i s l ikel y t o happen? You w i l l pr obabl y f al l and hur t your sel f , and in t he
32
pr ocess cr eat e pr obl ems f or your sel f . When someone pul l s t he r ug f r om
under your f eet , what he i s doi ng i s t aking away t he suppor t or hel p t hat you
have been r ecei vi ng. By t aki ng away your suppor t r at her unexpect edl y, he
cr eat es al l ki nds of pr obl ems f or you.
Pr abhu pul l ed t he r ug f r om under his chil dr en' s f eet by denyi ng t hem t hei r
al l ow ance.
The company was l osi ng money. It deci ded t o pul l t he r ug f r om under t he i l l -
f at ed pr oj ect .
Is i t okay t o say, " It t ook M ohan si x mont hs t o r ecover f r om his f at al
acci dent " ?
No, i t i sn' t . The w or d `f at al ' usual l y has a negat i ve connot at i on. An acci dent
or an i l lness t hat i s descr i bed as `f at al ' , usual l y r esul t s i n t he deat h of an
i ndi vidual . As you pr obably know , i t i s di f f i cul t f or a per son t o r ecover f r om
deat h!
The ail i ng chi ef mi ni st er suf f er ed a f at al hear t at t ack ar ound midnight .
Sever al pol i cemen wer e f at al l y wounded dur i ng t he encount er wi t h t he
mi l it ant s.
The wor d `f at al ' can al so be used t o mean `undesi r abl e' or `causi ng disast er ' .
33
The capt ai n made t he f at al mi st ake of aski ng Agar kar t o bowl t he f i nal over .
Sahu' s i nj ur y pr oved f at al t o our plans of wi nni ng t he t r ophy.
" Women ar e li ke cel l phones. They l ike t o be hel d and t al ked t o, but push
t he wr ong but t on, and you' l l be di sconnect ed." Unknown
What is t he meani ng of `Eeyor i sh' ?
Fi r st , l et ' s deal wi t h t he pr onunci at i on. The `ee' i s li ke t he `ee' i n `f eel' , `peel' ,
and `heel ' ; t he f ol l ow i ng `o' sounds l ike t he `o' i n `hot ' , `cot ' , and `dot ' .
Eeyor e i s t he name of one of t he char act er s in A. A. M i l ne' s chi l dr en' s cl assi c,
`Wi nni e t he Pooh' . Eeyor e i s a donkey; he i s ver y pessi mi st i c, and makes
cynical comment s about a l ot of t hi ngs. He i s sel dom happy. Ther ef or e,
when you say t hat someone i s `Eeyor i sh' , what you mean i s t hat t he per son
i s gl oomy or depr essed.
* What ' s wr ong wi t h M al ini ? Why i s she so Eeyor i sh t his mor ni ng?
What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of `Gar r i son f i ni sh' ?
Ear l y t hi s year , our one-day t eam pul l ed of f a coupl e of sensat i onal vi ct or i es.
When we t hought t hat t he mat ch had been l ost , someone or t he ot her did
somet hi ng i ncr edi bl e and hel ped t he t eam wi n t he mat ch. Thi s come-f r om-
behi nd vi ct or y i s cal l ed `Gar r i son f i ni sh' .
34
* It w as a Gar r i son f ini sh. Our t eam scor ed t hr ee goal s i n t he last t w o
mi nut es.
The expr essi on comes f r om t he wor l d of hor se r aci ng. Edwar d H. Gar r ison,
ni cknamed `Snapper ' , was a f amous Amer i can j ockey who r aced i n t he l at e
19t h cent ur y. He was f amous f or his spect acul ar come-f r om-behi nd
vi ct or i es. Whenever he par t ici pat ed in a r ace, Gar r i son always began by
st ayi ng at t he back of t he pack. He made hi s move (he speeded up hi s hor se)
onl y dur i ng t he last st r et ch of t he r ace. Si nce he al ways won hi s r aces by
st ayi ng back t i l l t he l ast mi nut e, a come-f r om-behi nd vi ct or y began t o be
cal l ed `Gar r i son f i ni sh' .
What is t he di f f er ence bet ween `br eak a sweat ' and `br eak i nt o a sweat ' ?
When you do somet hi ng `wi t hout br eaki ng a sweat ' , you do i t wi t hout any
di f f i cul t y. You f ind t he t ask so easy t hat you don' t have t o exer t your sel f at
al l ; you per f or m t he t ask ver y easi l y or qui ckl y. Ther e i s no need f or you t o
sw eat .
* Rahul answ er ed al l t he quest i ons wi t hout br eaki ng a sweat .
Anot her expr essi on t hat has mor e or l ess t he same meani ng i s `no sweat ' .
* Li st en, I' l l car r y t he t wo lar ge sui t cases. No sweat at al l .
35
When you `br eak i nt o a sweat ' , you act ual l y st ar t sweat i ng. And when is i t
t hat we begi n t o sweat ? When we exer t our sel ves or when we ar e
ext r emely ner vous or f r i ght ened about somet hi ng.
* The chi l dr en br oke i nt o a sweat when t hey hear d st r ange noi ses comi ng
f r om t he bedr oom.
What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of `cakew al k' ?
When you say t hat t he vi ct or y was a `cakewal k' , what you mean is t hat it
was ver y easi l y achi eved. You di dn' t have t o put i n t oo much of an ef f or t ;
you won wi t hout r eal l y havi ng t o wor k har d.
* Gi ven your exper i ence, get t i ng t he j ob shoul d be a cakewal k
* The f ir st coupl e of r ounds of t he t our nament shoul d be a cakewal k.
The `cakewal k' was a f or m of ent er t ai nment among Af r i can Amer icans. Well -
dr essed coupl es t hat t ook par t in t hi s compet i t i on wer e made t o wal k
ar ound a cake. The pai r t hat per f or med t hi s t ask most gr acef ul l y was
awar ded a pr i ze. In most cases, t he pr i ze was t he cake i t sel f ; t he wi nner
used t o `t ake t he cake' . Lat er , t he w or d `cakew alk' w as used t o r ef er t o a
popul ar f or m of dance.
36
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `magazine' and `j our nal ' ?
Har i sh, Lucknow )
When f i r st used, t he wor d `j our nal ' r ef er r ed t o a dai l y publ icat i on whi ch
gave an account of t he event s t hat happened t he pr evi ous day. It was l i ke a
newspaper . Nowadays, t he wor d i s used t o r ef er t o any publ i cat i on t hat i s
br ought out at r egul ar i nt er val s. For exampl e, a j our nal can be a mont hly,
quar t er l y, et c. The ar t i cl es cont ai ned i n a j our nal ar e usual l y schol ar ly,
ser i ous i n nat ur e, and deal wi t h a speci al i sed ar ea. For exampl e, we have t he
Jour nal of Li ngui st i cs, Jour nal of Wr i t i ng, et c. A `magazi ne' , on t he ot her
hand, doesn' t l i mit i t sel f t o one ar ea; it deal s wi t h var i ous subj ect s
pol i t i cs, ent er t ai nment and spor t s. Si nce t he ar t i cl es ar e meant f or t he
gener al publ i c, t hey ar e much shor t er and ar e usual l y accompani ed by
phot ogr aphs. `Out l ook' , `Fr ont l i ne' , and `Spor t st ar ' , ar e al l magazi nes, not
j our nal s; and l i ke t he j our nal , t hey t oo ar e br ought out at r egul ar i nt er val s.
What i s t he meani ng and or i gi n of `on cl oud ni ne' ?
(Har esh Kumar , M umbai )
When you say t hat you ar e on cl oud ni ne, what you mean i s t hat you ar e
ext r emel y happy; you f eel as i f you ar e on t op of t he wor l d.
* The ent i r e t eam was on cl oud ni ne af t er wi nni ng t he champi onshi p.
37
No one i s r eall y sur e wher e t he expr ession comes f r om. Some bel i eve t hat
t he or i gi nal expr essi on was `on cl oud seven' , ver y si mi l ar t o t he expr essi on
`sevent h heaven' . Ot her s bel ieve t hat ni ne was chosen because i t i s
consi der ed a myst i cal number . Accor di ng t o weat her men, `cl oud ni ne' r ef er s
t o t he `cumul oni mbus' or t he t hunder st or m cl oud. This cl oud of t en r ises t o
f or t y t housand f eet ; and when you ar e `on' such a cl oud, you ar e li t er al l y on
t op of t he w or l d!
What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of `di ng-dong bat t l e' ?
(Fat hi ma Nagi r a, Vishakapat nam)
Remember t he nur ser y r hyme we l ear nt i n school ? `Di ng-dong bell , pussy' s
i n t he wel l .' Wel l t he expr essi on `di ng-dong' r ef er s t o t he sound t hat a bel l
makes; t he back and f or t h mot i on of t he knocker hi t t i ng a bel l . When you
say t hat t wo par t i ci pant s wer e i nvol ved i n a di ng-dong bat t l e, what you
mean i s t hat t hey wer e invol ved in a l ong dr awn out bat t l e. The f i ght was
i nt ense and t her e wer e t i mes when each par t i ci pant seemed t o have t he
upper hand i n t ur ns. In a di ng-dong bat t l e, i t i s of t en ver y di f f icul t t o pr edi ct
who wi l l emer ge t he wi nner ; somet i mes, t he r esul t is inconcl usi ve. Anot her
expr essi on which has mor e or l ess t he same meani ng is `see-saw bat t l e' .
When you si t on t he see-saw, you ar e up one moment , and down t he ot her .
* The f ans wer e hopi ng f or a di ng-dong bat t l e. They wer e di sappoi nt ed when
t he Aussi es t hr ashed t he Indi ans.
Whi ch i s cor r ect ? `Det er t o do' or `det er f r om doi ng' somet hi ng?
38
(V. Pr abhakar , Bangal or e)
Fi r st , l et ' s deal w i t h t he pr onunci at i on of `det er ' . The f i r st `e' i s l ike t he `i ' i n
`bi d' , `bi t ' and `si t ' , and t he second is l i ke t he `i r ' in `shi r t ' , `bi r d' and `dir t ' .
The st r ess i s on t he second syl l abl e `t er ' . The w or d `det er ' i s usual l y f ol l ow ed
by `f r om' and not `t o' . When you det er someone f r om doi ng somet hi ng, you
di scour age hi m f r om doi ng i t . You achi eve t hi s by maki ng t he i ndi vi dual
r eal i se how dif f i cul t t he t ask may be, or by hi ghl i ght i ng t he unpl easant
consequences of per f or mi ng t he t ask. You do ever yt hi ng t o ensur e t hat t he
per son no l onger wi shes t o cont i nue t o do what he was doi ng.
What is t he meani ng of `eat er ' s coma' ?
(R. Anur adha, Coi mbat or e)
Thi s i s a t ype of coma t hat we have al l exper i enced some t i me or t he ot her .
How do we nor mal l y f eel af t er a par t i cular l y heavy meal ? M ost of t he t i me,
w e f eel pr et t y sl uggi sh; w e don' t f eel l i ke doi ng anyt hi ng. Af t er some t i me,
we begi n t o f eel r at her sl eepy. Thi s l azy and sl eepy f eel i ng t hat we have
af t er a heavy meal i s cal l ed `eat er ' s coma' .
* If I eat ever yt hi ng t hat is on t he t abl e, I' l l l apse int o an eat er ' s coma.
What i s t he meani ng of `Bangal or ed' ?
(Ravi Nagapr asad, Hyder abad)
39
The Amer i cans i nvent ed t hi s wor d, and t hey have been usi ng i t qui t e
f r equent l y. As you know, many mul t i nat i onals, i n or der t o save money, ar e
out sour ci ng t hei r wor k t o ci t i es i n Indi a. When an Amer i can says t hat he has
been `Bangal or ed' , what he means is t hat he has l ost hi s j ob because his
company has deci ded t o move i t s oper at i ons t o a ci t y i n Indi a not
necessar i l y Bangal or e.
* Accor di ng t o t he ar t i cl e, anot her 10,000 peopl e wi l l be Bangal or ed by t he
end of t he year .
It i s not of t en t hat t he name of a ci t y i s used as a ver b. As a pr oud
Hyder badi, you may wonder why t he Amer i cans chose t he ci t y of Bangal or e.
You must r emember t hat dur i ng t he ear l y st ages of out sour ci ng, most of t he
compani es wer e movi ng t o t hi s ci t y Bangal or e was t hen per cei ved as t he
Si l i con Val l ey of Indi a. The Amer i cans' f ear of l osi ng j obs t o t he ci t y of
Bangal or e gave r i se t o anot her wor d `Bangal or ephobi a' .
What is t he di f f er ence bet ween `The t heat r e i s cl osed' and `The t heat r e has
been cl osed' ?
(Revat hi , M ysor e)
The f i r st sent ence suggest s t hat t he t heat r e is not open at t he moment ; i t i s
l ocked f or t he t i me bei ng. Chances ar e, i t wi l l open a l i t t l e l at er . It has not
been cl osed per manent l y. The second sent ence, on t he ot her hand, seems
t o suggest t hat someone has f orci bl y cl osed down t he t heat r e. Per haps t he
muni ci pal aut hor i t i es wer e unhappy wi t h t he saf et y f eat ur es, and deci ded t o
40
shut t he pl ace down. In t his case, t he cl osur e is ei t her per manent or f or a
l engt hy per i od of t i me.
What i s t he meani ng and or igi n of `l et your hai r down' ?
(Anmol Wakandar , Er nakul am)
Some peopl e ar e ver y r eser ved when t hey ar e i n t he company of ot her s.
When you t el l a per son t o l et hi s hai r down, what you mean is t hat you want
hi m t o r elax and st ar t enj oyi ng hi msel f . You want hi m t o speak hi s mi nd.
* It w as onl y af t er t he compl et i on of hi s l ast exam t hat Chet an l et hi s hai r
dow n.
In t he ol d days, women had t o put t hei r hai r up i n a bun dur i ng t he dayt i me.
The onl y t ime when t hey could li t er al l y l et t hei r hai r down and be
t hemsel ves was when t hey wer e r eady t o go t o bed.
What is t he meani ng of `geek' ?
(Babu, Coi mbat or e)
Thi s i s a wor d most ly used in i nf or mal cont ext s, and i t has sever al di f f er ent
meani ngs. One of t he meani ngs of `geek' i s a bor i ng i ndi vidual w ho w al ks
ar ound wear i ng r at her unf ashi onabl e cl ot hes. Thi s per son has l i t t l e or no
soci al ski l ls.
41
* You must be nut s t o ask a geek l i ke Govi nd t ips about f ashi on.
* I don' t w ant you t o invi t e t hat geek Har i sh t o our par t y.
An i ndi vi dual who is an exper t , or i s ver y knowl edgeabl e in hi s l imi t ed ar ea
of i nt er est (f or exampl e, comput er s) can al so be cal l ed a geek. He i s
someone whose f ocus of i nt er est is r at her nar r ow , but he knows everyt hi ng
about t he subj ect .
* If it is a comput er geek you r equi r e, you' d bet t er hi r e Dr avi d. He' s
excel l ent .
* I want t o lear n ever yt hi ng on my own. I don' t want some geek t el l ing me
ever yt hi ng.
I under st and t he wor d comes f r om t he Dut ch `geck' which means `f ool ' . It i s
i n t hi s sense t hat Shakespear e used t he wor d i n some of hi s pl ays. In t he
1920s, t he Amer i cans used t he wor d `geek' t o r ef er t o an i ndi vi dual i n a
car ni val who per f or med bi zar r e act s. The or i gi nal `geek' was someone who
ent er t ai ned hi s audi ence by bi t i ng of f a l i ve chi cken' s/ snake' s head! Wi t h t he
passage of t i me, t he wor d began t o be used t o r ef er t o anyone who was
soci al l y i nept ; whose i nt er est s wer e very di f f er ent f r om t hose of ot her s.
42
What is t he di f f er ence bet ween `i nf or m of ' and `i nf or m on' ?
(R. Sekhar , Hyder abad)
When someone i s `i nf or med of ' somet hi ng, he i s f or mall y t ol d about t he
f act s; t he i nf or mat i on i s passed on t o him.
* Pl ease be her e at 2:00 o' cl ock t omor r ow. I wi ll i nf or m you of my deci si on
t hen.
* We wer e i nf or med of t he change i n pl ans l ast ni ght .
When you `i nf or m on' someone, you gi ve i nf or mat i on about t he i ndi vi dual
t o t he aut hor i t i es. In ot her wor ds, you t at t l e on t he per son. The peopl e i n
power may use t he i nf or mat i on you pr ovi de agai nst t he per son. Her e ar e a
f ew exampl es.
* If you cont i nue t o come l at e l i ke t hi s, I' m af r ai d t hat I' l l have t o inf or m on
you.
* It was hi s own f r i ends who i nf or med t he pol i ce on hi m.
Is t her e a di f f er ence i n meani ng bet ween " amuse" and " bemuse" ?
43
(Jayashr ee, Pune)
Yes, t her e i s a di f f er ence a bi g di f f er ence. The t wo wor ds ar e not
synonymous, as some peopl e bel i eve. When somet hi ng " amuses" an
i ndi vi dual , i t makes hi m l augh or smi l e. He f i nds i t f unny or ent er t ai ni ng.
* The pr i nci pal f ound t he comment s made by t he st udent s ver y amusi ng.
" Bemuse" , unl ike amuse, has not hi ng t o do wi t h maki ng peopl e l augh. When
you ar e " bemused" by somet hi ng, you ar e bewi l der ed by i t . It l eaves you
conf used or puzzl ed. For exampl e,
* When t he st r anger walked int o t he cl assr oom, t he chi ldr en l ooked at her
w i t h a bemused expr essi on.
What i s t he meani ng of " r un wi t h t he har e and hunt wi t h t he hounds" ?
(N.Vi j ayasel vam,
Sr i vi l l iput t ur )
Ver y of t en when t wo peopl e have an argument , t hey go t o a t hi r d per son
and ask him t o be a j udge. If t he per son i s t i mi d and i s af r ai d t o t ake a
deci si on, he wi l l end up sayi ng t hat bot h par t i es ar e i n t he r ight . He wil l
suppor t bot h si des of t he ar gument because he doesn' t want t o hur t t he
f eel ings of his f r i ends; somet i mes, he does t hi s wi t h an ul t er i or mot i ve i n
mi nd. Thi s desi r e t o be on f r i endl y t er ms wi t h bot h warr i ng f act i ons by
44
suppor t i ng t hei r ar gument s is what we mean by t he expr essi on, " runni ng
w i t h t he har e and hunt i ng w i t h t he hounds." The i ndi vidual i s t r yi ng t o be
bot h t he r abbi t (har e) and t he dog (hound). He want s t o be t he hunt ed as
w el l t he hunt er ; and t hi s i s j ust not possi bl e. Thi s i di om i s consi der ed r at her
ol d f ashi oned.
* Lat ha i s a ver y cl ever per son. She r uns wi t h t he har e and hunt s wit h t he
hounds.
Is t her e a di f f er ence i n meani ng bet ween " amuse" and " bemuse" ?
(Jayashr ee, Pune)
Yes, t her e i s a di f f er ence a bi g di f f er ence. The t wo wor ds ar e not
synonymous, as some peopl e bel i eve. When somet hi ng " amuses" an
i ndi vi dual , i t makes hi m l augh or smi l e. He f i nds i t f unny or ent er t ai ni ng.
* The pr i nci pal f ound t he comment s made by t he st udent s ver y amusi ng.
" Bemuse" , unl ike amuse, has not hi ng t o do wi t h maki ng peopl e l augh. When
you ar e " bemused" by somet hi ng, you ar e bewi l der ed by i t . It l eaves you
conf used or puzzl ed. For exampl e,
* When t he st r anger walked int o t he cl assr oom, t he chi ldr en l ooked at her
w i t h a bemused expr essi on.
45
What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of `you' r e nut s' ?
(C.V. Geet ha, Hyder abad)
When somebody t el l s you t hat you ar e nut s, what t hey mean i s t hat you ar e
cr azy. The expr essi on i s most l y used i n inf or mal cont ext s.
* Nar esh want s t o i nvest al l hi s savi ngs in t he st ock mar ket . The guy i s nut s, I
t el l you.
* I w oul dn' t go out w i t h t hat guy i f I w er e you. M y f r i ends t el l me he' s nut s.
Dur i ng t he mi ddl e of t he 19t h cent ur y, t he wor d `nut ' began t o be used t o
r ef er t o an i ndi vi dual ' s head. Thi s was because some peopl e t hought t hat
t her e was a si mi l ar i t y bet ween t he shape of a nut and t he shape of a human
head! Anot her si mi l ar i t y t hey f ound was t hat t he nut , l i ke t he human head,
was har d and t he most i mpor t ant t hing i n bot h cases was cont ai ned
i nsi de and not out si de! What ever be t he case, t he head began t o be r ef er r ed
t o as a `nut ' . Ar ound t his t i me, t he expr essi on `of f one' s head' w as
f r equent l y used t o mean `out of one' s mi nd; cr azy' . As t i me went by, t he
wor d `head' was r epl aced by `nut ' in t he expr essi on, and ver y soon t he wor d
`nut ' acqui r ed t he meani ng `cr azy' . Anyone who was cr azy was cal l ed `nut s' ,
and t he hospi t al f or people who had ment al i l l ness began t o be cal l ed a `nut
house' .
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `He cooked a good meal ' and `He cooked up
a good meal' ?
46
(T.M al a, Thi r uvanant hapur am)
The r esul t i s t he same i n bot h cases you end up eat i ng a good meal ! `Cook
up' suggest s t hat t he var i ous dishes wer e pr epar ed r at her quickly, and at
shor t not i ce. The expr essi on i s consi der ed t o be i nf or mal and has t he same
meani ng as `r ust l e up' .
* M y gr andmot her managed t o cook up a decent meal f or t he guest s who
ar r i ved unannounced.
* M y appoi nt ment has been cancel l ed. Thi nk you' l l be abl e t o r ust l e up
somet hi ng f or l unch?
Whi ch i s cor r ect ? `M y wi f e knows wel l t hat I can' t si ng' or `M y wi f e knows
t hat I can' t si ng w el l ' ?
(S. Chet han, Nagpur )
Bot h sent ences ar e gr ammat i cal l y accept abl e, but t hey don' t have t he same
meani ng. The f i r st sent ence suggest s t hat your wi f e knows t hat you cannot
si ng. Ther e i s no doubt i n her mi nd t hat you ar e not a si nger . The second
sent ence suggest s t hat your wi f e knows t hat you can si ng but not very
w el l . In t hi s case, you ar e a si nger , but not a good one.
* You know w el l t hat I don' t pl ay t enni s. (You know t hat I don' t pl ay t enni s at
al l .)
47
* You know t hat I don' t pl ay t enni s wel l . (I can pl ay t enni s, but I am not ver y
good at i t .)
" The mai n pur pose of hol di ng chi l dr en' s par t i es is t o r emi nd your sel f t hat
t her e ar e chi l dr en mor e awf ul t han your own." Unknown
What is t he meani ng of `sweep under t he car pet ' ?
(Li dw i n, Coi mbat or e)
When you sweep or br ush somet hi ng under t he car pet , you at t empt t o hi de
somet hi ng embar r assi ng f r om ot her s. Inst ead of deal i ng wi t h your pr obl em,
you t r y t o keep i t a secr et . It i s also possi bl e t o say `sweep somet hi ng under
t he mat / r ug' .
* The Gover nment has managed t o sweep t he col a cont r over sy under t he
car pet .
* The act or t r i ed t o sweep t he embar r assi ng i nci dent under t he r ug.
Wher e does t hi s expr essi on come f r om? What is i t t hat lazy peopl e nor mal l y
do when t hey ar e asked t o cl ean a car pet ed r oom? They sweep ar ound t he
car pet , and inst ead of bendi ng dow n t o col l ect t he dust , t hey qui et l y sw eep
i t under t he car pet !
48
What i s t he meani ng of `apr opos' , and how is t he wor d used?
(Kunt hal a, Bangal or e)
Fi r st , l et ' s deal w i t h t he pr onunci at i on. The `a' sounds l i ke t he `a' in `act ' ,
cat ' , and `hat ' ; t he f ol l ow i ng `o' is l i ke t he `a' in `chi na' . The f i nal `o' is
pr onounced l i ke t he `oa' in `coat ' , `boat ' , and `goat ' ; t he `s' i s si l ent . The
st r ess i s on t he f i nal syl l abl e. The expr essi on `apr opos of ' is usual l y used t o
i nt r oduce a new subj ect , but one whi ch i s connect ed t o what you wer e
t al ki ng about ear l i er .
* I r ecei ved a cal l f r om Pr i yanka last night apr opos of whi ch, did you send
her t he pai nt i ngs?
When you say t hat somet hing i s `apr opos' , you mean t hat i t i s sui t abl e f or
t he si t uat i on.
Is `pai r of ' f oll owed by a si ngul ar or plur al ver b?
(G. Ravindr an, Kochi )
You nor mal l y use `a pai r of ' w hen you ar e t al ki ng about t w o t hi ngs w hi ch ar e
of t he same si ze and which ar e used t oget her - f or exampl e, shoes, gl oves,
et c. When used i n t hi s manner, i t can be f ol l ow ed by a si ngul ar or a plur al
ver b.
49
* The pai r of gl oves I l i ked was not f or sal e.
* The man put on a pair of bl ack shoes t hat wer e i n t he ver anda.
" Ever yone who is i ncapabl e of l ear ni ng has t aken t o t eachi ng." Oscar
Wi l de
What is t he ki l l i ng of one' s br ot her cal l ed?
(M adhu Sudhan Rao, Vi j ayaw ada)
The ki l l ing of one' s br ot her is r ef er r ed t o as `f r at r i ci de' . The `a' i s
pr onounced l i ke t he `a' i n `pact ' , `f act ' , and `t act ' ; t he f ol l ow i ng `i ' i s li ke t he
`i ' i n `si t ' , `bi t ' , and `hi t ' . The f i nal `ci de' is pr onounced l ike t he w or d `si de' ,
and t he st r ess i s on t he f i r st syl l abl e. Thi s i s one w ay of pr onounci ng t he
w or d. `Fr at er ' i n Lat i n means `br ot her ' and `ci da' means `ki l l er ' . Ther e ar e
many wor ds i n Engl i sh endi ng wi t h t he suf f i x `ci de' . For exampl e, t he ki l l i ng
of one' s f at her i s `pat r i ci de' . `M at r ici de' is t he ki l l i ng of one' s mot her , and
w hen a par ent ki l ls hi s/ her chi l d, i t ' s cal l ed `f i l ici de' . If you ki l l anot her
human bei ng it ' s `homici de' , and when you ki l l your sel f , it ' s `suici de' .
What i s t he meani ng of `r ai se t he bar ' ?
(Ramesh Pahwa, New Del hi )
50
The expr essi on comes f r om t he wor l d of at hl et i cs. In hi gh j ump and pol e-
vaul t , when you cl ear a par t i cul ar height , t he hor i zont al bar i s r ai sed t o a
new level t o see i f you can j ump even higher . Ever y t i me you cl ear t he
hur dl e, t he bar i s r ai sed, and you ar e set a new chal l enge. When you r aise
t he bar f or somet hi ng, you r ai se t he l evel ; in ot her w or ds, you set a higher
st andar d.
* The st udent s went on st r i ke because t he Pr i nci pal r ai sed t he bar f or
admi ssi on.
* The CEO had t o l ower t he bar i n or der t o gi ve hi s son t he j ob.
Why do w e say `f i ve st ar hot el ' and not `f ive st ar s hot el ' ?
(K. Subr amani an, Nager coi l )
Thi s i s because `st ar ' i s f unct i oni ng as an adj ect i ve, and not as a noun. You
can say t hat you saw `Fi ve st ar s shi ni ng in t he sky.' But w hen a noun l i ke
hot el f ol l ow s t he w or d `st ar ' , you say, `I had di nner i n a t hr ee st ar hot el ' . You
do not say, `t hr ee st ar s hot el ' . Si mi l ar l y, you say, `I w ant f i ve r upees' . But
when t he wor d `r upees' i s f ol l owed by t he noun `coi n' or `not e' , you say, `I
need a f i ve r upee coi n/ not e' . You do not say, `f i ve r upees not e' . Jogger s t al k
about a `t went y-mi l e mar at hon' , and not a `t went y mil es mar at hon' .
51
What is t he di f f er ence bet ween a `st or y' and a `t al e' ?
(Deepa Wodeyar , Devanager e)
Of t he t w o, `st or y' i s t he mor e gener al w or d. A st or y can be r eal or f ict i t i ous,
and i t can be w r i t t en or or al . You can t alk about a st or y t hat you r ead i n t he
newspaper , or a st or y t hat your gr andmot her t old you as a chi l d. The
newspaper st or y coul d be t r ue, but t he one t hat your gr andmot her t ol d you
coul d be made up. A st or y can be i n t he f or m of poet r y or pr ose and i t
usual l y, not al ways, deal s wi t h a ser i es of i nci dent s i n an i ndi vi dual ' s l i f e.
* Li st en, gi ve me t he f act s. I don' t want t o hear t he st or y of your li f e.
* Af t er seei ng t he f i l m, he went ar ound t el l ing t he st or y t o everyone.
Unl i ke a st or y, a `t al e' i s usual l y f i ct i t i ous; t he w or d car r i es w i t h i t a sense of
exagger at i on. Tal es, i n gener al , deal wi t h exci t i ng, but i magi nar y event s t hat
t ook pl ace i n anci ent t i mes and in f ar of f l ands. For example, w e t al k about
t he t ales of Ki ng Ar t hur and t he Round Tabl e.
" M ake cr i me pay. Become a l awyer ." Wi l l Roger s
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `advi sor ' and `advi ser ' ?
(K.M .G. Vi vekanandam, M adur ai )
52
Ther e i s no di f f er ence in meani ng bet ween t he t wo wor ds. Bot h ar e used t o
r ef er t o someone (usual l y an exper t ) whose j ob it i s t o advi se ot her peopl e.
For exampl e, f i l m st ar s of t en consul t f i nanci al advi ser s t o f i nd out w hat t o do
wi t h t heir money. When t hey get i nt o t r oubl e, t he st ar s consul t a l egal
advi ser . M ost di ct i onar i es t hat w e get in Indi a, l i st `advi ser ' as t he f i r st
choi ce, and `advi sor ' as t he second. Thi s i s because i n Br i t i sh Engl i sh t he
w or d i s spel t `a..d..v..i ..s..e..r ' ; `a..d..v..i ..s..o..r ' is t he w ay Amer i cans spell
t he wor d. Whi l e sur f i ng t he net , one encount er s `advi sor ' much mor e
f r equent l y t han `advi ser ' .
What i s t he meani ng of `cr oss t he br i dge when you come t o i t ' ?
(Bhaskar , Tr i vandr um)
Thi s i di om i s used t o t el l someone not t o wor r y about t hi ngs t hat may or
may not happen in t he f ut ur e. Ver y of t en, when we come up wi t h what we
t hi nk i s a good pr oposal , t he pr ophet s of doom i n t he of f i ce gi ve us a
det ai l ed account of t he t hi ngs t hat coul d possi bly go wrong. They t ake gr eat
del i ght in t ell i ng us w hy t he pr oj ect w i l l f ai l , and t hey come up w i t h all ki nds
of i magi nar y pr obl ems. In such a cont ext , i f you t el l your det r act or s t hat you
wi l l cr oss t he br i dge when you come t o i t , what you mean i s t hat you wi l l
deal wi t h t he var i ous pr obl ems as and when t hey ar ise. You ar e not goi ng t o
wor r y about t hem unnecessar i l y r ight now.
* What i f we r un out of f undi ng? We' l l cr oss t he br i dge when we come t o i t .
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* M ohan seemed unconcer ned. He sai d t hat he woul d cr oss t he br i dge when
he came t o it .
Whi ch i s cor r ect ? `A smal l per cent age of t he st udent s i s w or ked up about
t he f ee hi ke' or `A smal l per cent age of t he st udent s ar e wor ked up about t he
f ee hi ke' .
(Raj ender , Pat na)
Peopl e who ar e f ond of gr ammar woul d ar gue t hat when t he wor d
`per cent age' i s pr eceded by t he def i ni t e ar t i cl e `t he' , t hen t he ver b i s usual l y
si ngul ar . It doesn' t r eal l y mat t er if t he noun pr ecedi ng t he ver b i s si ngul ar or
pl ur al .
* The per cent age of st udent s f r om Del hi i s r el at i vely smal l .
Al t hough t he noun (`st udent s' ) i s plur al , t he ver b t hat f ol l ow s (`i s' ) i s
si ngul ar .
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* The per cent age of peopl e wi l l ing t o par t i ci pat e keeps decr easi ng ever y
year .
When you t alk about `a per cent age' , on t he ot her hand, it can be f ol l owed
by a si ngul ar or plur al ver b. It depends on t he noun w hi ch f oll ow s
`per cent age' .
* A ver y smal l per cent age of t he st udent s ar e f r om Del hi .
What is t he or i gi n of t he wor d `ni ght mar e' ?
(L. Sr i ni vas, Hyder abad)
Dr eams can be pl easant or unpl easant . Ni ght mar es, on t he ot her hand, ar e
al w ays unpl easant . A f r i ght eni ng dr eam i s usual l y cal l ed a ni ght mar e. When
you' ve had a ni ght mar e, you wake up gaspi ng f or br eat h. The `mar e' in
`ni ght mar e' has not hi ng t o do wi t h a f emal e hor se. The wor d comes f r om
Ol d Engl i sh `mar e' meani ng `i ncubus' . An i ncubus, peopl e bel i eved, was an
evi l spi r i t whi ch sat on a per son' s chest whi l e he sl ept hence, t he f eel i ng
of suf f ocat i on.
" Chi l dr en ar e unpr edict abl e. You never know what i nconsi st ency t hey' r e
goi ng t o cat ch you i n next ." Fr ankl i n P. Jones
What is t he meani ng of `st uck up' ?
(Neha Si ngh, Pune)
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Thi s i s an i nf or mal w ay of cal l i ng someone `snoot y' or `snobbi sh' . A per son
who is `st uck-up' t hi nks he i s mor e i mpor t ant t han ot her s, and as a r esul t , i s
of t en ver y unf r i endl y t owar ds t hem.
* What ' s got i nt o Hamsa? Why i s she so st uck-up?
* When I met t he st ar , I was pl easant ly sur pr i sed. He wasn' t at al l st uck-up.
What is t he meani ng of `hor net ' s nest ' ?
(M oni ka Jain, Agr a)
A hor net i s a l ar ge i nsect whi ch has a r el at i vel y l ar ge st i ng. When you r ef er
t o a pr obl em as bei ng a hor net ' s nest , what you mean i s t hat it is one t hat
causes peopl e t o become angr y. When you `st i r up a hor net ' s nest ' , you ar e
aski ng f or t r oubl e; you say or do somet hing cont r over si al whi ch r esul t s i n a
l ot of commot i on.
* The t eacher ' s ar t icl e i n t he l ocal paper st i r r ed up a hor net ' s nest .
* The M i ni st er ' s r emar ks about t he st r i ki ng st udent s st i r r ed up a hor net ' s
nest .
How i s wor d `cui si ne' pr onounced? (Dur ga, Chennai )
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The f ir st syl l abl e `cui ' i s pr onounced l i ke t he `qui ' i n `qui t ' , `qui z' , and `qui ck' .
The `s' t hat f ol l ow s is l i ke t he `z' i n `zi p' and `zoo' ; and t he f i nal `i ne' i s l ike
t he `een' i n `seen' , `t een' , and `keen' . The mai n st r ess is on t he second
syl l abl e. The wor d comes f r om Fr ench and is most l y used t o t al k about a
par t i cul ar st yl e of cooki ng - t he way i n whi ch an it em i s pr epar ed. When you
r ef er t o t he cui si ne of a r est aur ant , you ar e t alki ng about t he di f f er ent
var i et i es of f ood ser ved t her e.
Can t he wor d `doct or ' be used as a ver b?
(Anj al i Dut t a, Pat na)
Yes, i t can. When someone `doct or s' somet hi ng, he makes some changes i n
i t i n or der t o decei ve peopl e. For exampl e, compani es, i n or der t o show a
huge pr of i t , somet i mes change t he f i gures i n t hei r account s. They do t hi s i n
t he hope t hat t heir shar e pr ices wi l l go up. Thi s pr act ice of changi ng f i gur es
di shonest ly i s cal l ed doct or i ng.
* These r epor t s suggest t hat i t was t he Pr of essor who doct or ed t he f i gur es.
* Accor di ng t o t he f i l m st ar , her ex-husband doct or ed t he phot ogr aphs.
When someone doct or s your dr i nk or f ood, t hey spi ce i t up wi t h a li t t l e bi t of
poi son!
* The poli ce suspect t hat i t was t he par t ner who doct or ed t he dr i nk.
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* The dog' s f ood had been doct or ed.
Is i t OK t o say, `I am cr azy af t er Engl i sh' ?
(M adhul i ka, Kanpur )
No, i t i s not . You ar e usual l y `cr azy about ' somet hi ng, and not `cr azy af t er '
somet hi ng. When you ar e cr azy about somet hi ng, you li ke it ver y much. You
go af t er i t because you ar e very i nt er est ed i n i t . It i s al so possi bl e t o say,
`mad about ' somet hi ng.
What is t he meani ng and or igi n of `t op br ass' ?
(S. M . Chi dambar am, Ti r unel vel i )
M any r epor t er s j ust l ove t hi s expr essi on; t hey use it al l t he t i me. Any t i me
t he t op peopl e of an or gani sat i on ar e pr esent dur i ng a pr ess conf er ence, t he
r epor t er says/ wr i t es t hat i t was at t ended by t he `t op br ass' . The expr essi on
i s consi der ed t o be i nf or mal, and i s most l y used i n Br i t i sh Engl i sh.
* The mini st er has sai d t hat t her e wi l l be a r eshuf f l e of t he ar my' s t op br ass.
58
The expr essi on `t op br ass' was f i r st used i n t he Ar my. `Br ass' r ef er r ed t o t he
gol d br ai d f ound on t he hat s of mi l it ar y of f i cer s it indi cat ed t he
i ndi vidual ' s r ank. The w or d `br ass' is act ual l y a shor t ened f or m of `br ass hat ' ,
and t hi s was t he t er m used by enl i st ed men i n t he lat e 19t h cent ur y t o r ef er
t o t hei r commandi ng of f i cer s. It was dur ing Wor l d War II t hat `br ass hat '
became `t op br ass' . As t i me went by, t he expr essi on began t o be used i n
non-mi l it ar y cont ext s; i mpor t ant indi vi dual s of an or ganisat i on began t o be
cal l ed `t op br ass' . The t er m `t he br ass' can al so be used t o r ef er t o such
peopl e.
Why do we say `hue and cr y' ?
(C. Ashok, Hyder abad)
Fi r st , l et ' s deal w i t h t he pr onunci at i on of `hue' . The `hu' i s li ke t he `hu' i n
`human' and `huge' , and t he vowel t hat f ol l ows is l ike `oo' i n `cool ' , `pool ' ,
and `school ' . When a pol i t i ci an i s caught w i t h his hands i n t he cooki e j ar ,
peopl e r ai se a hue and cr y about cor r upt i on. In ot her wor ds, t hey compl ai n
about it r at her noi si l y; somet i mes, t her e i s a publ i c pr ot est . Thi s out cr y or
noi sy pr ot est is r ef er r ed t o as `hue and cr y' .
* Ther e was a hue and cr y when t he Gover nment deci ded t o i ncr ease t axes.
Di ct i onar i es def i ne `hue' as col our . What does col our have t o do w i t h noi se?
Not hi ng. The `hue' i n t he expr essi on i s f r om t he Fr ench `huer ' meani ng, `t o
shout af t er ' . `Hue and cr y' i s a legal t erm used i n t he 13t h cent ur y t o r ef er t o
a gr oup of peopl e r unni ng af t er a t hi ef . What do people do when t hey r un
af t er a t hi ef ? They shout and cr eat e al l ki nds of noise t o at t r act at t ent i on!
What is t he meani ng of `mul l over ' ?
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(P. Bal akr ishnan, M angal or e)
When you `mul l over ' a pr obl em or pl an, you t hi nk about it f or a long t i me
bef or e ar r i vi ng at a deci si on.
* Shashi has been mul l i ng over t he pr obl em f or sever al weeks now.
Why i s t el evi si on cal l ed t he `i di ot box' ?
(M edepal l i Seshu, New Del hi)
It i s not t he box whi ch i s t he i di ot , but t he peopl e wat chi ng i t . Have you ever
obser ved peopl e wat chi ng t hei r f avour i t e pr ogr amme? Thei r eyes r emai n
gl ued t o t he t el evi si on set , and on most occasi ons t hey have no cl ue what i s
goi ng on ar ound t hem. When you ask t hem quest i ons, t hey eit her t ell you t o
keep qui et , or don' t t ake t he t r oubl e t o answer you. The onl y t i me t hey
come al i ve i s dur i ng t he commer ci al br eak; ot her wi se, t hey r emain passi ve.
They keep st ar i ng at t he `box' as i f t hey wer e a bunch of i di ot s; t he TV t ur ns
t hem i nt o one. By t he way, di d you know t hat t he wor ds `i di ot ' and `idi om'
ar e r el at ed? Bot h come f r om t he Gr eek `i di os' , meani ng `pecul iar ' . Why i s an
i di om pecul i ar ? Because t he meani ng of an idi om i s not t he sum of t he
meani ng of al l t he wor ds of t he i di om. For exampl e, whenever i t r ai ns
heavi ly, we say, `It ' s r ai ni ng cat s and dogs' . It doesn' t mean t hat cat s and
dogs ar e act ual l y f al l ing f r om t he sky.
What is t he meani ng of `buy someone of f ' ?
(A. S. Beg, Ali gar h)
When a pol i ceman st ops us f or a t r af f i c vi ol at ion, what is i t t hat we nor mal l y
do? We t r y t o t alk our way out of payi ng t he f i ne. Somet i mes we pl ead wi t h
t he of f i cer , at ot her t i mes, we t r y t o br i be hi m so t hat we don' t have t o pay
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t he f ul l penal t y. Thi s act of br i bi ng someone so t hat he t ur ns a bl i nd eye t o
t he wr ong t hat we have done i s r ef er r ed t o as `buyi ng someone of f ' .
The busi nessman succeeded i n buyi ng of f some of t he i ncome t ax of f i ci al s.
What ' s t he di f f er ence bet ween " How ar e you?" and " How do you do?"
(Rohan Tendulkar , Bidar )
In Br i t i sh Engl i sh, `How do you do?' i s nor mal l y used when you ar e
i nt r oduced t o someone f or t he f ir st t i me. It i s a way of gr eet i ng someone,
and t he st andar d r esponse t o t hi s expr essi on i s, `How do you do?' You
nor mal l y use t hi s expr essi on onl y once w i t h a per son. The next t i me you
meet hi m, you can say, `How ar e you?' Thi s expr essi on is used wi t h peopl e
you al r eady know. Unl i ke `How do you do' , `How ar e you' i s i nt ended t o f ind
out how t he i ndi vi dual i s doi ng bot h emot i onal ly and physi cal l y. `How do
you do?' does not car r y t hi s meaning. Did you know t hat t he wor d `hi ' i s
act ual l y f r om `how ar e you' ? When `how ar e you' i s sai d ver y f ast , i t sounds
l i ke `hi ya' . So inst ead of sayi ng, `how ar e you' , peopl e st ar t ed sayi ng, `hi ya' .
Lat er on, `hi ya' was r educed t o `hi ' . Ther ef or e when you meet someone and
say, `Hi , how ar e you?' , what you ar e act ual l y sayi ng i s, `How ar e you? How
ar e you?' .
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `shovel down' and `shovel i nt o' ?
(L. Jaya, Bangal or e)
When you `shovel somet hi ng down' , you t ake a huge bi t e of somet hing and
gul p i t dow n ver y quickly. It i s an expr essi on t hat is most ly used i n i nf or mal
cont ext s.
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Li st en, you don' t have t o shovel your sandwi ch down. We have pl ent y of
t i me.
When you `shovel somet hi ng i nt o somet hi ng' , you make use of a shovel t o
put somet hi ng i nt o somet hi ng else.
The ol d gar dener spent a l ot of t i me shovell i ng gr avel i nt o t he wheel bar r ow.
" When you st eal f r om one aut hor , i t ' s plagi ar i sm; when you st eal f r om
many, i t ' s r esear ch." Wi l son M i zner
Is i t OK t o use `r anker ' t o mean `t op r ank i n an exami nat i on' ?
(B. Shal i ni , Hyder abad)
Thi s i s a wor d one f r equent l y encount er s i n t he mont hs of M ay and June in
Indi a. A st udent who does wel l i n an ent r ance exam and get s a decent r ank
i s i mmediat el y l abel l ed a `r anker ' . Pr oud par ent s di st r i but e sweet s cl ai mi ng
t hat t heir chi l d i s a `r anker ' , and t ut or ial i nst i t ut i ons t ake out ads cl ai mi ng
t hat t hey had X number of `r anker s' i n t hi s year ' s exam. Thi s use of t he wor d
`r anker ' t o mean `t op i n t he exami nat i on' i s Indi an. Nat i ve speaker s of
Engl i sh do not use t he wor d in t hi s manner . Di ct i onar i es def i ne t he wor d
" r anker " as a commi ssi oned of f i cer who has been pr omot ed f r om t he
enl i st ed st at us. It has not hi ng t o do wi t h per f or mi ng wel l i n an exam.
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What i s t he meani ng of `out of t he box' ?
(P. B. Lakshmi Nar asi mhan, Chennai )
When you t hi nk out of t he box, you t hi nk cr eat i vel y, you t hi nk i n an
unconvent i onal manner . The expr essi on der i ves f r om t he f amous puzzl e
cr eat ed by a Br i t i sh mat hemat i ci an, Henr y Er nest Dudeney. In t his puzzl e
t her e ar e ni ne dot s ar r anged i n t hr ee r ows; each r ow cont ai ni ng t hr ee dot s.
The chal l enge i s t o connect all ni ne dot s maki ng use of f our st r aight l i nes,
w i t hout t aki ng t he penci l of f paper .
* Sanj ay has al w ays been an out of t he box sor t of guy.
What i s t he meani ng and or i gi n of `hi t t he sack' ?
(A. Nal i ni , Thi r uvanant hapur am)
When you say t hat you ar e goi ng t o `hi t t he sack' , you ar e sayi ng i n a r at her
i nf or mal way t hat you ar e goi ng t o bed. What does a sack have t o do wi t h a
bed? Dur i ng Wor l d War II, Amer i can sol dier s st ar t ed r ef er r i ng t o t hei r
sl eepi ng bags as `sacks' . `Hit t he sack' r epl aced t he ear l i er expr essi on `hi t t he
hay' . Why hay? In t he old days, peopl e w ho coul dn' t af f or d a bed used t o
sl eep on a sack st uf f ed wi t h hay. Bef or e t hey l ay down t o sl eep, t hey used t o
keep hit t i ng t he sack t i ll t he st r aw/ hay was evenl y spr ead. Hence t he
expr essi on `hi t t he hay' .
* I' ve had a t i r i ng day. I t hi nk I am goi ng t o hi t t he sack ear l y t oday.
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* You don' t ser i ously expect me t o hi t t he hay so ear ly, do you?
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `passwor d' and `buzzwor d' ?
(S. Har i sh, Coi mbat or e)
A `buzzw or d' can ei t her be a wor d or a phr ase t hat has suddenl y become
ver y popul ar i n a par t i cul ar f i el d. Repor t er s f r om t he var i ous news medi a
pi ck up on i t and const ant l y use i t i n t hei r st or i es. As a r esul t , t he or di nar y
publ i c becomes f amil i ar wi t h i t as well . In r ecent year s, `bi ot echnol ogy' has
been t he buzzwor d i n medi ci ne. `Empower ment ' , `par adi gm shi f t ' and
`syner gy' ar e t he ot her exampl es of buzzwor ds.
A `passwor d' , on t he ot her hand, is usual ly a secr et wor d or phr ase t hat you
ar e expect ed t o know i n or der t o ent er r est r i ct ed pl aces. It t ell s t he ot her
per son who you ar e. For exampl e, if you want t o check your emai l , you have
t o t ype i n your user mai l i d and your passw or d. If you f or get t he passw or d,
you wi l l be deni ed access. Unl i ke buzzwor ds, passwor ds ar e not usual l y new,
and ar e not used f r equent l y by one and al l . They ar e usual ly kept a secr et .
" Or i gi nal i t y is t he ar t of conceal i ng your sour ce." Fr ankl i n P. Jones
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What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of `busman' s hol iday' ?
(Soor i amoor t hy, Chennai )
If you get a day of f and you end up spendi ng i t doi ng what you nor mal l y do
on any w orki ng day, t hen you cal l i t a `busman' s hol iday' . Inst ead of goi ng
out and enj oyi ng your sel f , you spend t he day as i f i t wer e any ot her worki ng
day doi ng of f i ce w or k. By t he w ay, t he `a' in `man' is pr onounced l i ke t he
`a' i n `chi na' .
The expr essi on comes f r om t he t i me when buses in London wer e pul l ed by
hor ses. Ever y dr i ver was gi ven hi s own t eam of hor ses, and man and ani mal
wor ked t oget her ever y day. As it usual l y happens i n such ci r cumst ances, a
cl ose r el at i onshi p devel oped bet ween t he dr i ver and hi s t eam. Whenever
t he dr i ver w ent on l eave, a subst i t ut e was hi r ed t o `dr i ve' t he bus. Ver y
of t en t he r egul ar dr i ver w oul d si t i n hi s bus al l day as a passenger j ust t o
make sur e t hat hi s horses wer e bei ng proper l y t r eat ed by t he subst i t ut e.
Si nce t he dr i ver ended up doi ng what he nor mal l y di d on any wor ki ng day,
t hese r i des began t o be cal l ed `busman' s hol iday' .
* I t hought I woul d make i t a busman' s hol i day and f i ni sh wr i t i ng t he r epor t .
What is t he meani ng of `t o st onewal l ' ?
65
(G. Uday Kumar , Cochi n)
The wor d i s nor mal l y used t o show di sappr oval . When you accuse someone
of `st onew al l i ng' w hat you mean i s t hat t he i ndi vidual i s being obst r uct i ve,
uncooper at i ve or evasi ve. The person i s del ayi ng t aki ng a decisi on about
somet hi ng or r ef usi ng t o answ er your quest i ons because t her e i s somet hi ng
he w i shes t o hide.
* The pr i nci pal st onewal l ed when t he r epor t er asked hi m about t he scandal
on campus.
Si nce wal ls made of st ones wer e di f f i cult t o br eak t hr ough, t he wor d
`st onewal l ' began t o be used t o r ef er t o anyt hi ng t hat pr esent ed a
f or mi dabl e obst acl e.
The t er m i s also used i n cr i cket . When a bat sman `st onewal ls' , he spends a
l ot of t i me at t he cr ease wi t hout r eall y at t empt i ng t o scor e r uns.
Is t her e a di f f er ence bet w een `r e-count ' and `r ecount ' ?
(B. Jayant h, Pune)
Yes, t her e i s. The incl usi on of t he hyphen br i ngs about a change in t he
meani ng of t he wor d. The wor d `r e-count ' means `t o count agai n' or `a
f ur t her count ' . Her e ar e a f ew exampl es.
* Bot h candi dat es demanded a r e-count .
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It must be ment i oned her e t hat not ever yone uses t he hyphen nowadays.
The `e' in t he f i r st syl l abl e i s pr onounced l i ke t he `ee' i n `seed' , `f eed' , and
`need' .
The wor d `r ecount ' , on t he ot her hand, means t o nar r at e. In t hi s case, t he `e'
i s l ike t he `i ' i n `si t ' , `bi t ' , and `hi t ' , and t he st r ess i s on `count ' .
* The st udent s r ecount ed t hei r advent ur es i n t he Hi mal ayas.
" Chi l dhood i s t hat w onder f ul t i me of l i f e w hen al l you need t o do t o lose
wei ght i s t ake a bat h." Richar d Zena
What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of `M onday mor ni ng bl ues' ?
(Sant osh Gupt a, M ensa)
M onday is not a day t hat many peopl e l ook f or war d t o. In f act , most peopl e
get up f eel ing r at her depr essed on t hi s day. Reason? They know t hey have
t o w or k f or anot her f ive or si x days bef or e t hey get some t i me of f . The
`bl ues' r ef er r ed t o i n t he i di om has not hi ng t o do wi t h t he col our . Accor di ng
t o some schol ar s, it r ef er s t o t he t ype of musi c made popul ar by Af r i can
Amer i cans. The `bl ues musi c' deals wi t h r at her sad t hemes, and as a r esul t
l eaves t he l i st ener f eel ing sad. Thi s i s t he r eason w hy t he expr essi ons `t o
have t he bl ues' and `f eeli ng blue' mean f eel ing sad or depr essed.
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What i s t he meani ng of `cul de sac' ?
(Br . Pi nt o, Nagapat t i nam)
Fi r st , l et ' s deal w i t h t he pr onunci at i on. The `u' i n `cul ' i s li ke t he `u' in `cut ' ,
`but ' , and `hut ' ; t he `e' i n `de' is l i ke t he `i ' in `it ' , `bi t ' , and `hi t ' . The f inal
w or d i s pr onounced l i ke t he w or d `sack' . The main st r ess i s on t he f i r st
syl l abl e. A cul de sac is a shor t r oad which i s bl ocked of f at one end. In ot her
wor ds, i t ' s a dead end.
* Rahul l i ves i n a beaut i f ul house i n a qui et cul de sac.
What is t he di f f er ence bet ween `psych out ' and `psych someone out ' ?
(C. Ganpat , Hyder abad)
Bot h ar e expr essi ons used i n i nf or mal cont ext s. When you `psych out ' you
become t er r i bl y exci t ed about somet hi ng. You get so exci t ed t hat i n t he
pr ocess you somet i mes l ose your abi l i t y t o t hi nk cl ear l y.
* When my br ot her saw t he new car I had bought , he psyched out .
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When you `psyche someone out ' you get t hem ver y exci t ed and make t hem
l ose cont r ol of t hei r ment al abi l i t y.
* Wat chi ng t hei r chi l dr en spendi ng money r eckl essly psyched out t he
par ent s.
The expr essi on can al so be used t o mean `t o f igur e someone out ' . When you
`psyche someone out ' you begi n t o under st and how hi s mind wor ks.
* Af t er havi ng been mar r i ed f or t went y year s, I st i l l haven' t psyched out my
wi f e.
" The t r oubl e w i t h chi l dr en i s t hat t hey ar e not r et ur nabl e." Quent i n Cr i sp
Whi ch i s cor r ect ? `Wai t i ng in t he wi ngs' or `wait i ng on t he wings' ?
(Sana John, Hyder abad)
The cor r ect expr essi on i s `wait i ng i n t he wi ngs' . The `wi ngs' in t hi s i di om has
not hi ng t o do wi t h t he wi ngs of a bi r d. The i di om comes f r om t he wor l d of
t heat r e. The wor d `wings' r ef ers t o t he si des of t he st age, whi ch ar e usual l y
hi dden f r om t he audi ence by t he cur t ai n. Act or s nor mal l y wait her e bef or e
t hey w al k ont o t he st age. When you say t hat someone is w ai t i ng i n t he
wi ngs, what you mean i s t hat t he per son i s r eady t o per f or m; al l he needs i s
an oppor t uni t y.
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* We must gi ve hi m an oppor t uni t y. He' s been wai t i ng i n t he wi ngs f or t oo
l ong.
" Ther e ar e a f ew t hi ngs mor e sat i sf yi ng t han seei ng your chi l dr en have
t eenager s of t hei r own." Doug Lar son
What is t he di f f er ence bet ween `l onel y' and `al one' ?
(C. Pur ushot haman, Chennai )
If you ar e si t t i ng al l al one i n t he dini ng hal l , t her e is no el se w i t h you i n t he
r oom. You ar e t he only person pr esent , t he sol e occupant . Loneli ness, on
t he ot her hand, i s a st at e of mi nd. When you say t hat you f eel l onel y, w hat i t
i mpl ies is t hat you f eel unhappy because you don' t have any f r i ends or
anyone t o t alk t o; you f eel i sol at ed. When you ar e i n t he company of peopl e
you ar e not al one, but you can be l onel y. You might f eel t hat you don' t r eall y
bel ong wi t h t he gr oup of peopl e. Si nce you have not hi ng i n common wi t h
t hem, you cannot r elat e t o t hem. When peopl e go abr oad, t hey mi ght be i n
t he mi dst of a lot of peopl e, but t hey st i ll f eel ver y l onel y. On t he ot her
hand, peopl e may be al l al one, but t hey may not f eel l onel y.
* Thi nki ng of his l if e back home made him f eel ext r emel y l onel y.
What i s t he meani ng of `met r osexual ' ?
(Saumya Pr at ik, Ranchi )
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The t er m i s used t o r ef er t o men l i ving i n ci t i es (" met r os" ) who consi der
t hemsel ves t o be `sensi t i ve' and `r omant i c' . These peopl e ar e al ways
i mmacul at el y dr essed and spend a l ot of t i me i n f r ont of t he mi r r or t o make
sur e t hat t hey ar e l ooki ng t hei r best . Unl i ke t he or di nar y `guy' , a
met r osexual i s not af r ai d of showi ng his f emi ni ne si de; he may come t o
of f i ce w i t h his f i nger nai l s paint ed. He i s usual l y f ai r l y w ell t o do, l oves t o
shop and spends a l ot of t i me and money on cl ot hes. A met r osexual may or
may not be gay. M ar k Si mpson coi ned t he wor d i n 1994.
What is t he meani ng of `gun-shy' ?
(Neha Si ngh, Pune)
The wor d `shy' i s of t en added t o nouns li ke `camer a' , `gun' and `publ i ci t y' t o
mean t hat t hat an i ndi vidual i s not par t i cul ar l y f ond of t hat t hi ng. For
exampl e, a per son who is `camer a-shy' does not l i ke st andi ng bef or e
camer as; he/ she doesn' t l i ke get t i ng hi s/ her pi ct ur e t aken. Si mi l ar l y, a
per son w ho is `publ ici t y-shy' w i ll do anyt hi ng t o avoi d publ i ci t y. He doesn' t
want hi s name ment i oned i n t he medi a. A per son who is `gun-shy' i s af rai d
of guns and t r i es t o keep away f r om t hem. Guns and t he noi se t hey make,
make him ner vous. Nowadays, t he expr essi on `gun-shy' has t aken on a
wi der meani ng. When you say t hat someone i s `gun-shy' , what you mean i s
t hat t he i ndi vidual i s ver y t i mid and af r ai d t o t ake r i sks.
* Af t er t hei r l ast br i dge col l apsed, t he company is gun-shy t o bui l d any new
ones.
What i s t he meani ng of `t he boot is on t he ot her f oot ' ?
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(Kundan Jha, Vadodar a)
In many of our movi es, i n t he begi nni ng, t he her o i s shown as a ver y weak
i ndi vidual . The vi l l ai n const ant l y beat s hi m up. But i n t he cour se of t he
movi e, t he si t uat i on sl owl y begi ns t o change; and by t he end, t he r ol es ar e
r ever sed. It ' s t he her o who is i n a domi nant posi t i on, and t he vi l lai n i n a
weak one. When you say t hat t he boot is on t he ot her f oot , you mean t hat
t he si t uat i on i s t he opposi t e of what i t was ear l i er . In ot her wor ds, t he t abl es
have t ur ned. Amer i cans t end t o say, `t he shoe i s on t he ot her f oot ' .
* The Amer i cans ar e r eal i si ng t hat t hey can' t get ot her count r i es t o do what
t hey w ant t hem t o. The boot i s on t he ot her f oot now .
What is t he di f f er ence bet ween `shout at ' and `shout t o' ?
(K. Lat ha, Chennai )
When you become angr y wi t h someone, you somet i mes end up `shout i ng
at ' t hem. You say what ever i t is you want t o say i n a l oud and angr y voi ce. In
t hi s case, you ar e bei ng aggr essi ve.
* The coach shout ed at t he pl ayer s when t hey t ur ned up lat e f or pr act ice.
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When you `shout t o' someone, you ar e cal l i ng out t o t he per son. The person
i s pr obabl y f ar away and t her ef or e you use a l oud voi ce t o get hi s at t ent i on.
* Jai shout ed t o us t o come and j oi n hi m on t he boat .
" You know your chi l dr en ar e gr owi ng up when t hey st op aski ng you wher e
t hey came f r om and r ef use t o t el l you wher e t hey' r e goi ng."
What i s t he meani ng of `what is sauce f or t he goose i s sauce f or t he gander ' ?
(P. Habeeb Rahman, M adur ai )
Some par ent s t r eat t hei r sons and daught er s di f f er ent l y; t hey do not have
t he same set of r ul es f or t he t w o. For exampl e, t hey may al l ow t hei r sons t o
go out wi t h t hei r f r i ends on Fr i day evenings, but may not al l ow t hei r
daught er s t o do so. As f ar as t hey ar e concer ned, i t i s not okay f or gi r l s t o go
out . Such par ent s do not bel i eve t hat what i s sauce f or t he goose i s sauce f or
t he gander . In ot her words, t hey don' t t hi nk t hat what is appr opr i at e f or one
per son, is appr opr i at e f or anot her . It ' s al so possi bl e t o say, `what ' s good f or
t he goose i s good f or t he gander ' . The expr essi on has been ar ound f or
sever al cent ur i es, and i s consi der ed r at her ol d f ashi oned.
* If you' r e goi ng t o punish me f or wat chi ng t oo much t el evi si on, t hen you
shoul d puni sh Geet ha, t oo. What ' s sauce f or t he goose i s sauce f or t he
gander .
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Is i t okay t o r ef er t o a gi r l as bei ng `homely' ?
(L. Bal agopal , Hyder abad)
If she i s not much t o l ook at , t hen you can cal l her `homel y' . When you r ef er
t o a gi r l as being homel y, what you ar e suggest i ng i s t hat she is r at her pl ain
or ugl y. The wor d can be used wi t h animal s as well .
* Her daught er s ar e ver y int el l i gent , but r at her homel y.
When you r ef er t o a chai r as bei ng `homel y' , what you mean i s t hat i t i s not
el egant t o l ook at , but comf or t abl e t o sit on.
What is t he meani ng of `nut s and bol t s' ?
(Qazi M d. Zai di , Begusar ai )
When someone t al ks about t he nut s and bolt s of a j ob, he gi ves a br i ef
summar y of what t he j ob ent ai ls. In ot her wor ds, he gi ves you t he basi c
i nf or mat i on about t he j ob. When you say t hat someone knows t he nut s and
bol t s of a subj ect , he knows t he basi c t hi ngs about t he subj ect .
* They t el l me t hat M ohan i s f amil i ar wi t h t he nut s and bolt s of t el evisi on
scr i pt i ng.
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What ' s t he di f f er ence bet ween `I am gi vi ng an exam' and `I' m t aki ng an
exam' ?
(U. N. Li maye, Pune)
When you say t hat you ar e `t aki ng' an exam, i t means t hat you ar e goi ng t o
be wr i t i ng one. In ot her wor ds, you ar e goi ng t o be a candi dat e, an
exami nee. When you say t hat you ar e goi ng t o be `gi vi ng' an exam, it means
t hat you ar e goi ng t o gi ve someone else an exam; you ar e t he exami ner . You
ar e pr obabl y a t eacher and you ar e goi ng t o gi ve your st udent s an exam. In
Indi a, t hi s di st i nct i on i s not al ways mai nt ai ned.
" The best way t o keep chi l dr en at home i s t o make t he home at mospher e
pl easant - and let t he ai r out of t hei r t i r es." Dor ot hy Par ker
What is t he di f f er ence bet ween `sl ap on t he back' and `sl ap on t he wr ist ' ?
(P. Yadav, Pat na)
As a chi l d, whenever you di d somet hi ng wr ong, you i nvar i abl y got punished
f or it . Somet i mes t he puni shment wasn' t as sever e as you had expect ed i t t o
be; i n f act , i t t ur ned out t o be pr et t y mi ld. When you get sl apped on t he
wr i st f or doi ng somet hi ng wr ong, you r ecei ve puni shment whi ch i s not as
sever e as i t mi ght have been.
Peopl e who dr i ve wi t hout a l i cense shoul dn' t get of f wi t h a sl ap on t he wr i st .
They shoul d be put i n j ai l .
* The chi l dr en got a sl ap on t he wr i st f or not doi ng t hei r homewor k.
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The expr essi on `get your wr ist sl apped' has t he same meani ng as `sl ap on
t he w r i st ' .
* We got our w r ist s sl apped f or not dr i nki ng t he mi l k.
You nor mal l y hi t someone on t he back when you ar e pr oud of what he/ she
has done. The i di om `sl ap on t he back' i s used t o show appr oval . It has t he
same meani ng as `pat on t he back' .
* We shoul d gi ve Rahul a sl ap on t he back f or helpi ng us or ganise t he cul t ur al
pr ogr amme.
What i s t he meani ng of `t o make waves' ?
(Indi r a, Bangal or e)
When you make waves, you ar e br i ngi ng about changes i n a si t uat i on;
changes t hat not all peopl e ar e happy wi t h. The changes usual l y cause
pr obl ems, and l eave many peopl e r at her unhappy.
* Anand i s a good choice. He i s di f f ident and i s unl i kel y t o make w aves.
Why do we say, `t he U.N' , but not `t he UNESCO' ?
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(J. Ganesh, M adur ai )
When you use t he abbr evi at ed f or m of a wel l -known or ganisat i on and you
pr onounce each l et t er separ at el y, t hen you use `t he' . In t he case of `U.N' , f or
exampl e, you pr onounce t he `u' as wel l as t he `n' separ at el y. Ot her f amous
or gani sat i ons whi ch have t o be pr eceded by `t he' ar e `BBC' , `CBI' , `FBI' and
`EC" . In t he case of UNESCO, t he l et t er s ar e not pr onounced i ndi vi dual l y. You
put t hem t oget her and say i t as a wor d. When t he abbr evi at ed f or m of an
or gani sat i on i s pr onounced as a wor d, t hen you need not put `t he' bef or e i t .
In t he case of `OPEC' , `UNICEF' , and `NATO' , t her e i s no need f or t he def i ni t e
ar t i cl e `t he' .
Whi ch of t he f ol l owi ng sent ences is cor r ect ? `The maj or i t y of t he appl i cant s
i s not qual i f i ed' or `The maj or i t y of t he appl i cant s ar e not qual i f i ed' ?
(M . Rat nasabapat hi , Neyvel i)
The second sent ence i s gr ammat i cal ly cor r ect . `M aj or i t y of ' i s i nvar i abl y
f ol l ow ed by a pl ur al noun. For exampl e, w e say, `maj or i t y of st udent s' ,
`maj or i t y of young mot hers' and `maj or i t y of cases' . Si nce t he noun i n al l t he
exampl es i s pl ur al , t he ver b t hat f oll ow s must al so be pl ur al .
* The maj or i t y of st udent s ar e unwi l l i ng t o t ake par t i n t he st r ike.
When `t he maj or i t y' is not f ol l owed by `of ' , t hen t he ver b t hat f ol lows can be
ei t her si ngul ar or pl ur al . For exampl e,
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* The maj or i t y i s of t he opi nion t hat we must go on st r i ke.
* The maj or i t y f eel t hr eat ened by t he possi bl e changes.
" The phr ase `wor ki ng mot her ' i s r edundant ." Jane Sel l man
W h a t i s t h e m e a n i n g o f ` c o o k t h e b o o k s ' ?
(M anoj Kumar Vohr a, Far idabad)
Thi s i s an expr essi on mai nl y used i n i nf or mal cont ext s. When you say t hat an
account ant has cooked t he company' s books, what you mean i s t hat he has
changed t he f i gur es i n t he l edger in or der t o cheat or decei ve peopl e.
Compani es, whi ch ar e i n t he r ed, of t en r esor t t o t hi s, i n or der t o show t hat
t hey ar e i n good f i nanci al posi t i on. When you cook t he books, you f al si f y t he
account s. The Chai r man sai d, " Cook t he books. I want i t done bef or e t he
annual shar ehol der ' s meet ing."
* Vi j ay was asked t o r esi gn because he r ef used t o cook t he books.
Whi ch i s cor r ect ? `How ar e t he t eam?' or `How i s t he t eam?'
(Jai , Coi mbat or e)
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I under st and t hat i n Br i t i sh Engl i sh bot h ar e accept able. If you w i sh t o t hi nk
of t he t eam as a si ngl e uni t , t hen you use t he si ngul ar `i s' . On t he ot her
hand, i f you t hi nk of t he t eam as consist i ng of di st i nct indi vi dual s, t hen you
use t he pl ur al ver b `ar e' . Ther e ar e many nouns i n Engl i sh whi ch can be
f ol l owed by eit her t he si ngul ar ver b or t he pl ur al ver b: gover nment , f amil y,
t eam, f ir m, and peopl e. These ar e j ust a f ew.
What i s t he meani ng of `demonol ogy' ?
(N. Dhar maeshwar an, Bangal or e)
Demonol ogy i s an or t hodox br anch of t heol ogy and it st ar t ed of f as t he
st udy of t he devi l, wi t ches, and ot her spi r i t s t hought t o be evi l. Nowadays,
t he t er m is bei ng used t o r ef er t o t he peopl e or gr oups of peopl e we hat e.
As human bei ngs we l i ke a cer t ai n gr oup of peopl e and hat e ot her s. For
exampl e, as f ar as t he communi st s ar e concer ned, al l capi t al i st s ar e evi l
because t hey ar e only i nt er est ed i n expl oi t ing t he wor ki ng cl ass. Col l ege
st udent s, on t he ot her hand, view t he admi ni st r at i on w it h suspi ci on. Thi s l i st
of enemi es t hat each of us has can al so be r ef er r ed t o as demonol ogy. For
exampl e, you can say, t he j our nal ' s demonol ogy expanded t o i ncl ude
pol i t i ci ans, gover nment of f ici al s, and communi st s.
Whi ch i s cor r ect ? `Once f or all ' or `once and f or all ' ?
(G. Sambasi vam, Chennai )
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The di ct i onar i es l i st only `once and f or al l ' . The expr essi on i s used t o mean
`now and f or t he l ast t i me' . When you do somet hi ng once and f or al l, you
f i ni sh doi ng i t so t hat you don' t have t o w or r y about it agai n.
* Af t er she compl et es t he pr oj ect , Seet ha pl ans t o r et ur n t o Fr ance once and
f or al l .
What is t he meani ng of `j oi n t he maj or i t y' ?
(M . Rat nasabapat hi, M adur ai )
When you j oi n t he maj or i t y, you di e. It is al so possi bl e t o say, `j oi n t he gr eat
maj or i t y' , `go over t o t he gr eat maj or i t y' and `deat h j oi ns us t o t he gr eat
maj or i t y' . Ot her i di oms whi ch have mor e or less t he same meani ng ar e, `gi ve
up t he ghost ' , `go t he w ay of al l f l esh' , and `ki ck t he bucket ' .
What is t he di f f er ence bet ween a `medical shop' and a `chemi st ' ?
(D. Pandur anga Rao, Chennai )
In bot h shops, you can buy medici ne manuf act ur ed by wel l-known
phar maceut ical compani es. At t he chemist ' s however , i t i s possi bl e f or you
t o have your medi ci ne pr epar ed. The shop usual l y has someone who is wel l
t r ai ned or qual i f i ed t o pr epar e w hat ever i t i s you need.
What i s t he meani ng of `wher ewi t hal ' ?
(Jayar am, Kaki nada)
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If you say t hat you have t he wher ewi t hal t o buy a house, what you ar e
sayi ng i s t hat you have t he means t o do i t . In ot her w or ds, you have t he
money t o buy one. In most cases, t he wor d i s used t o r ef er t o f unds. The
st r ess i s on t he f i r st syl l abl e.
* The wher ewi t hal was sent t o our f act or y i n Hyder abad t o pr oduce spur i ous
dr ugs.
Why i s Sout h Amer i ca cal l ed `Lat i n Amer i ca' ?
(S. Bhakt havat hsal an, Chennai )
The maj or i t y of peopl e w ho li ve i n t hi s r egi on speak ei t her Spani sh or
Por t uguese. Bot h t hese l anguages, unl i ke Engl i sh, have descended f r om
Lat i n. Hence Sout h Amer i ca i s cal l ed `Lat i n Amer i ca' , and t he peopl e who
l i ve t her e ar e cal l ed `Lat i nos' or Lat i n Amer i cans.
What is t he meani ng and or igi n of `r ul e of t humb' ?
(C. Kr i shnaveni , Hyder abad)
The i diom has been ar ound f or over t hr ee cent ur i es. When we wi sh t o
measur e t he l engt h or wi dt h of an obj ect and we don' t have a t ape or r ul er
at hand, we somet i mes make use of our t humb t o do i t . Thi s way of
cal cul at i ng t he l engt h/ br eadt h of somet hing, wi l l not gi ve us t he exact
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measur ement , onl y an appr oximat e one. So when you say t hat you ar e
doi ng somet hi ng by r ul e of t humb, you mean t hat what you ar e doi ng i s
based on exper i ence or i nst i nct , and not on exact cal cul at i on.
* A good r ul e of t humb is t o make t hr ee chapat his per guest .
What i s t he di f f er ence bet w een `di spat ch' and `despat ch' ?
(R. Sunder aj an, Chennai )
As f ar as t he meani ng i s concer ned, t her e i s no di f f er ence. The pr ef er r ed
spel l i ng nowadays seems t o be `di spat ch' .
" Some ki ds want t o know why t he t eacher s get pai d when it ' s t he ki ds who
do all t he w or k."
Whi ch i s cor r ect " M y house i s opposi t e t o t he r ai l way st at i on" or " M y house
i s opposi t e t he r ai l w ay st at i on" ?
(V. S. Paul Devasahayam, M adur ai )
You nor mal l y say t hat t he house i s opposi t e t he r ai l way st at i on, and not
`opposi t e t o' . When you use t he wor d `opposi t e' i n t hi s manner , you ar e
suggest i ng t hat t her e i s somet hi ng separ at i ng t he t wo obj ect s. In t hi s case, i t
coul d be t hat t he r ai lway st at i on and your house ar e separ at ed by a r oad or
a st r eet . Opposi t e i mpl ies t hat t he t w o bui l di ngs ar e on dif f er ent si des of t he
r oad/ st r eet . Si mi l ar l y, when you say, " Di vya' s r oom i s opposi t e Puj a' s" , what
you ar e suggest i ng i s t hat t he t wo rooms ar e f aci ng each ot her ; t her e i s a
cor r i dor bet ween t hem.
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* The near est super mar ket i s opposi t e t he hospi t al .
* The peopl e who l i ve opposi t e Anand' s house ar e sl i ght ly cr azy.
What i s t he meani ng of `di es non' ?
(S. Shama Bhat , Kasar agod)
Fi r st , l et ' s deal w i t h t he pr onunci at i on. The `di' is pr onounced l ike t he w or d
`di e' and t he f ol l owi ng `es' i s l i ke t he wor d `ease' . The second wor d, whi ch
has t he mai n st r ess, i s pr onounced l i ke t he w or d `non' . `Di es non' is t he
shor t ened f or m of t he Lat i n expr essi on `di es non j ur i di cus' . `Di es' means
`day' , `non' means `not ' and `j ur i di cus' means `j udi ci al ' . As you have
pr obabl y guessed by now, t hi s expr essi on i s most l y used i n l egal cont ext s t o
mean a day on which t he cour t doesn' t wor k; a non-j udi ci al day. Sundays,
f or exampl e, ar e non-j udi ci al days. Those w ho have f i l ed a case i n cour t
know t hat i t t akes year s f or i t t o appear . As f ar as t hese peopl e ar e
concer ned, t he j udici ar y sel dom wor ks! M ost days ar e `di es non j ur i di cus'
What is t he di f f er ence bet ween `ampl e' and `enough' ?
(T. M anohar an, Chennai )
The wor d `enough' suggest s suf f i ci ent or adequat e. For exampl e, when you
say t hat you had enough chai r s f or t he guest s, i t means t hat you had
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suf f i ci ent number of chai r s f or peopl e t o si t on. The chai r s met your
r equi r ement s; t hey wer e adequat e. When you say t hat you had ampl e
money t o go on t he t r i p, i t suggest s you had mor e t han enough money.
Ampl e i s lar ger i n degr ee and quant i t y when compar ed t o `enough' . If you
have ampl e evi dence t o put a gui l t y man away, you have mor e t han
adequat e or suf f i ci ent evi dence t o put hi m away f or good. In ot her wor ds,
you have pl ent y of evi dence.
Cr i cket comment at or s t alk about `t he r ub of t he gr een... ' What does i t
mean?
(Raj esh, Del hi )
Thi s i s an expr essi on t hat i s most l y used i n t he cont ext of spor t s. In t he f i r st
t est mat ch, f or exampl e, Engl and had t he r ub of t he gr een on t he f our t h day.
The Indi ans f i elded poor l y and dr opped a f ew cat ches. Even some of t he
umpi r i ng deci si ons went Engl and' s way. The visi t or ' s seemed t o have al l t he
l uck. When you say t hat someone has t he r ub of t he gr een, what you ar e
i mpl yi ng i s t hat ever yt hing i s goi ng t hei r way t hey have dame l uck on
t hei r si de.
* Ananya hasn' t had t he r ub of t he gr een i n t he l ast f ew t our nament s.
What i s t he meani ng of `mouse j our nal ism' ?
(B. Jambul i ngam, Thanj avur )
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The war i n Ir aq has gi ven r i se t o a new sor t of j our nal i sm mouse
j our nal i sm. Thi s i s a t er m coi ned by Rober t Fi sk, a cor r espondent of t he
Independent . He sai d t hat t he si t uat i on i n Ir aq i s so danger ous f or
j our nal i st s, t hat mouse j our nal i sm i s t he best way f or cor r espondent s t o st ay
al i ve. In t hi s sor t of j our nal i sm, t he r epor t er goes t o t he scene of t he event ,
gat her s news as qui ckl y as possi bl e (usual l y about t en mi nut es), and l eaves
bef or e " men wi t h guns ar r i ve."
`Dear God, Thank you f or t he baby br ot her , but what I pr ayed f or was a
puppy.' A chi l d.
What i s t he meani ng of `st ep up t o t he pl at e' ?
(G. Nar asi mhan, Chennai )
Thi s i s an expr essi on t hat comes f r om t he wor l d of basebal l . The `pl at e'
r ef er s t o `home pl at e' ; t he base a bat t er st ands next t o, as he get s r eady t o
r ecei ve hi s f i r st pi t ch. When a bat t er st eps up t o t he pl at e, he i s r eady t o
deal wi t h what ever t he pi t cher may deci de t o t hr ow at hi m. In ot her wor ds,
he i s r eady f or t he chal l enges i n st or e.
* I don' t t hi nk t her e i s anyone among you who woul d wi l l ingl y st ep up t o t he
pl at e.
* When it came t o cr unch t i me, Suj at ha r eal l y st epped up t o t he pl at e.
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What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `spar se' and `scar ce' ?
(K. M r i dul at ha, Bangal or e)
When you say t hat somet hing i s `spar se' what you mean i s t hat t her e i s ver y
l i t t l e of i t and what li t t l e t her e i s, i s unevenl y di st r i but ed. For exampl e, when
you t al k about spar se veget at i on, you ar e sayi ng t hat t he veget at i on i s t hi n,
not t hi ck, and t hi s t hi n veget at i on i s dist r i but ed over a r el at i vel y lar ge ar ea.
Ther e i s veget at i on i n some places, but not i n al l .
* Thanks t o t he spar se t raf f i c, we managed t o cover t he di st ance i n t wo
hour s.
* Why he wast es so much t i me on hi s spar se hai r i s beyond me.
`Scar ce' , on t he ot her hand, suggest s t hat t he shor t age of t he commodi t y i s
t empor ar y. It i s not per manent . Scar ci t y can be man made as wel l . For
exampl e, usual l y i n our count r y, t he day bef or e t he budget , pet r ol becomes
scar ce.
* I under st and t hat dur i ng t he Second Wor l d War , chocol at es became scar ce.
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What is t he meani ng of `st i ng oper at i on' ?
(R. Ami t Kumar , Kanpur )
Whenever we t ur n on t he TV t hese days, we hear t hat some news channel
has car r i ed out a `st i ng oper at i on' on an unsuspect i ng pol it i ci an. The wor d
`st i ng' has many di f f er ent meani ngs. A wel l t hought out scheme or pl an used
t o t r ap cr i mi nal s is cal l ed a st i ng. Usi ng hi dden camer as, news channels have
succeeded i n get t i ng some of our not -so-beloved pol i t i ci ans t o t al k about
how t hey use t hei r of f i ci al car s t o car r y dr ugs and how much t hey char ge t o
r ai se quest i on i n Par l i ament .
* The CBI came up wi t h a wel l -pl anned st i ng and managed t o nab many of
t he dr ug peddl er s.
The wor d `st i ng' also means t o `cheat ' or `swi ndl e' somet hi ng t hat our
pol i t i ci ans excel i n doi ng. Isn' t i t onl y f ai r t hat af t er havi ng cheat ed us, t hey
get st ung in r et ur n? You know what t hey say, what goes ar ound, comes
ar ound!
i t okay t o say, " Ever y day t hey have wada and dosa dur i ng t he mi dday?"
(S. Shant hi , Tr i chy)
We know when we say `mi dday' , we mean 12 o' cl ock i n t he af t er noon. Si nce
w e ar e r ef er r i ng t o a speci f i c t i me i n t he af t er noon, w e shoul d use `at ' and
not `dur i ng' . We shoul d say, " They have wada and dosai " at mi dday. If you
woul d l i ke t o use `dur i ng' , t hen use `mi ddl e' r at her t han `mi dday' .
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* The cl er k t ol d us t hat t he f or ms woul d be di st r i but ed at mi dday.
* You' d bet t er t ake a cap. It get s r eal l y hot dur i ng t he mi ddl e of t he day.
" Pl ease excuse Ronal d f r om P.T f or a f ew days. Yest er day he f el l out of a t r ee
and mi spl aced hi s hi p." Not e f r om a mot her
What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of `t ouch w ood' ?
(G. Venkat esh, Secunder abad)
When af t er maki ng a r emar k, you say `t ouch wood' , you ar e hopi ng t hat t he
good f or t une t hat you have had so f ar cont i nues. The expr essi on has t he
same meani ng as `knock on wood' .
* Our wi cket keeper hasn' t dr opped a si ngl e cat ch all summer . Touch wood.
* The second hand scoot er I bought r ecent l y hasn' t gi ven me any t r oubl e.
Knock on wood.
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Ther e ar e sever al expl anat i ons as t o t he or i gi n of t hi s expr essi on. Accor di ng
t o some schol ar s, i t comes f r om an ol d super st i t i ous bel ief t hat knocki ng on
a t r ee (wood) helped t o dr i ve away evil spi r i t s. Anot her expl anat i on i s t hat
`t ouch wood' was t he name of a t ag game t hat chi l dr en played. The ai m of
t he game was t o r un af t er your opponent s and cat ch t hem. But i f an
i ndi vi dual was t ouchi ng a t r ee (wood), t hen he was saf e; he coul dn' t be
`capt ur ed' .
What i s t he di f f er ence bet w een `He i s my best f r i end' and `He i s a cl ose
f r i end' ?
(S. M al avi kka, Chennai )
It i s possi bl e f or you t o have sever al `cl ose' f r i ends. When you say, `He i s my
best f r i end' , i t suggest s t hat he i s t he i ndi vi dual who is t he cl osest t o you; i t ' s
t hi s per son wi t h whom your shar e your most i nt i mat e t hought s.
What i s t he meani ng of `et al ' ?
(A. Umar , Kadayanal l ur )
Fi r st , l et ' s deal w i t h t he pr onunci at i on. The `et ' i s l i ke t he `et ' i n `set ' , `bet ' ,
and `pet ' ; t he `a' in `al ' is l i ke t he `a' i n `ant ' , `appl e' , and `hat ' . The main
st r ess i s on `al ' . `Et al ' comes f r om Lat i n and i t i s t he abbr evi at ed f or m of `et
al i a' meani ng ot her peopl e or ot her t hi ngs. The expr essi on i s used af t er a
name or a l i st of names t o i ndi cat e t hat ot her s ar e also i nvolved. It i s
nor mal l y used t o r ef er t o books and ar t icl es wr i t t en by mor e t han one
per son.
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* For your next cl ass, I woul d li ke you t o r ead t he ar t i cl e wr i t t en by Bal agopal
et al .
What ' s t he di f f er ence bet ween `see t hr ough someone' and `l ook t hr ough
someone' ?
(G. Ramesh, Pi l l ani )
When you look t hr ough someone, you see t he per son, but pr et end not t o.
As f ar as you ar e concer ned he i s not t her e, he doesn' t exist . When you see
t hr ough someone, you ar e abl e t o f igur e out what t he indi vi dual i s up t o. In
ot her wor ds, you under st and what he i s pl anni ng t o do; what his i nt ent i ons
ar e even t hough t he i ndi vidual i s t r yi ng hi s best t o hi de t hem.
* Har i sh was abl e t o see t hr ough Nar ender ' s scheme r i ght f r om t he
begi nni ng.
Is i t OK t o say, `He w as gi ven an yel l ow car d' ?
(D. Sr i dhar , Jamshedpur )
No, i t i s not . Pl ayer s ar e shown `a' yel l ow car d, and not `an' yel l ow one.
M any wor ds begi nni ng wi t h t he l et t er `y' ar e pr eceded by ' a' . For exampl e,
you say, `a young man' , `a yar d' , and `a year ' .
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" One of t he sympt oms of an appr oachi ng ner vous br eakdown i s t he bel i ef
t hat one' s w or k i s t er r i bl y impor t ant ." Ber t r and Russel l
What i s t he meani ng of `Bel t way pol it i cs' ?
(B. S. Sanj ay, Bangal or e)
In Amer i can Engl i sh t he wor d `bel t way' is used t o r ef er t o a r oad whi ch goes
ar ound a ci t y or t ow n w hat w e in India cal l a `r i ng r oad' . The `bel t w ay'
r ef er r ed t o i n your quest i on i s t he r oad t hat goes ar ound Washi ngt on D. C.,
t he capi t al of t he Uni t ed St at es. Bel t way pol i t i cs i s nor mal l y used t o t al k
about t he di r t y pol i t ics t hat goes on i n Washi ngt on.
What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of `get someone' s goat ' ?
(Ri shab, Vi j ayw ada)
When you get someone' s goat , you succeed i n annoyi ng t he i ndi vi dual or i n
maki ng hi m r at her angr y.
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* Somet i mes, Raj a comes t o wor k i n j eans and a T-shi r t . That r eal l y get s my
goat .
* M ohan' s const ant whi ni ng get s my goat .
Thi s i di om comes f r om t he wor l d of hor se r aci ng. I under st and t hat horses
ar e hi ghl y t emper ament al cr eat ur es. In or der t o keep t hei r pr i zed possessi on
cal m and r el axed, t r ai ners of t en kept a goat as a st abl e compani on f or t he
hor se. Goat s do not get f l ust er ed very easi l y, and t hei r pr esence i n t he
st abl e had a cal mi ng i nf luence on t he hor se. Si nce t he goat w as a const ant
compani on, t he hor se became r at her at t ached t o t he ani mal . In or der t o
ensur e t hat a par t icul ar hor se di dn' t per f or m wel l i n a bi g r ace, st abl e boys
wor ki ng f or r i val owner s somet i mes st ol e t he goat t he ni ght bef or e t he bi g
event . The absence of t he goat made t he hor se moody, and as a r esul t i t
di dn' t per f or m well i n t he r ace. So when you say t hat someone has got your
goat , you ar e compar i ng your sel f t o t he hor se, and not t he goat .
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `never t hel ess' and `however ' ?
(Suj at ha Nel l i kode, Abu Dhabi )
As f ar as t he meani ng i s concer ned, t here i s not much of a dif f er ence. The
t wo can be used int er changeabl y i n many cont ext s; `never t hel ess' i s
consi der ed t o be mor e f or mal t han `however ' . Bot h wor ds ar e used when
you wi sh t o emphasi se t hat t he second poi nt you ar e maki ng cont r ast s wi t h
t he f i r st .
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* He was ver y ugl y t o l ook at . However / never t hel ess most gi r l s want ed t o
mar r y hi m.
* It was pour i ng; never t hel ess/ however our t eacher made us wal k al l t he
w ay t o t he f ar mhouse.
Is i t OK t o say, `Yest er day ni ght ' ?
(M edepal l i Seshu, New Del hi)
We f i nd a l ot of Indi ans sayi ng, `I met him yest er day night .' Nat i ve speaker s
of Engl i sh w oul d pr obabl y f r ow n upon t hi s. It ' s okay t o say, `yest er day
mor ni ng/ af t er noon' , but not `yest er day ni ght ' . You nor mal ly say, `last ni ght ' .
For exampl e, I met Dr avi d at t he par t y last ni ght .
What is t he di f f er ence bet ween `sel l ' and `sel l out ' ?
(A. U. R. Kal yan, Tanuku)
`Sel l ' i s t he opposi t e of `buy' . When you sel l , you gi ve somet hi ng t hat you
own in r et ur n f or money. For exampl e, you have i ndi vi dual s sel l i ng
veget abl es, audi ot apes, and r eal est at e. When you `sel l out ' somet hi ng, you
succeed i n sel l i ng ever yt hi ng.
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* Al l t he chai r s and t abl es have been sol d out .
* Do you bel i eve t hi s? The t i cket s have been sol d out .
The expr essi on `sel l out ' has ot her meani ngs as wel l. When you `sel l
someone out ' you bet r ay t he i ndi vi dual .
* I t hi nk some of our pol it i ci ans ar e sel l i ng our count r y out .
* I cer t ai nl y don' t w i sh t o sel l you out .
`Okay, so God made man f i r st . But doesn' t ever yone make a r ough dr af t
bef or e t hey make a mast er pi ece?' Cour t ney Hust on
What i s t he meani ng of `cat ch as cat ch can' ?
(Venkat akr i shnan, Chennai )
Somet i mes i n or der t o achi eve somet hing or compl et e a t ask, you r esor t t o
any met hod avai l abl e t o you. You ar e not t oo wor r i ed about whet her what
you ar e doi ng is et hi cal or not ; you ar e int ent on achi evi ng your goal . As a
r esul t , you end up doi ng t hi ngs i n an unpl anned and an unsyst emat i c
manner . This i s what `cat ch as cat ch can' means. The i di om has mor e or l ess
t he same meani ng as `no hol ds bar r ed' .
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* When hi s f or mer par t ner compl ai ned t hat he was t aki ng away hi s cl i ent s,
Rahul t old hi m t hat i n busi ness i t was a case of cat ch as cat ch can.
Ar e you a f an of WWF wr est li ng? If you ar e, t hen you wi l l under st and what
t he w or d `cat ch' r ef er s t o. In f r eest yl e wr est l i ng, t her e ar e no r est r ict i ons on
how you can hol d your opponent . You can `cat ch' or hol d hi m/ her in any
w ay you can.
Why i s 26 December cal l ed `Boxi ng Day' ?
(B. Shobana, M eer ut )
The wor d `boxing' has not hi ng t o do wi t h t he spor t ; i t has t o do wi t h boxes
i n whi ch you put t hi ngs. Dur i ng t he Chr ist mas season a l ot of peopl e at t end
chur ch and whi l e t hey ar e t her e, t hey donat e money and ot her goodi es t o
t he poor . The money and gi f t s ar e put in a box, and t hi s is cal l ed a Chr i st mas
box. The boxes ar e opened by a pr i est t he day af t er Chr i st mas, and he i n
t ur n di st r i but es t he cont ent s t o t he needy. Thi s i s why 26 December i s cal l ed
Boxi ng Day. For most cr i cket f ans i n Indi a, `Boxi ng Day' is al ways associ at ed
wi t h t he f i r st day of a t est mat ch i n Aust r al i a.
What is t he meani ng of `per i od' i n t he f ol l owi ng sent ence? `He i s an
i nt el li gent man. Per i od.'
(C. Vasant h, Chennai )
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Ver y of t en peopl e use t he wor d `per i od' af t er t hey have made a st at ement
or st at ed an opi ni on. What t hey mean by t hi s i s t hat t hey ar e ver y sur e
about what t hey have sai d, and do not wi sh t o discuss t he mat t er . Your
sent ence suggest s t hat t he speaker i s ver y cer t ai n t hat t he per son i s ver y
i nt el l igent , and t he mat t er needn' t be discussed any f ur t her .
* Ther e i s no way t hat I am goi ng t o hel p Shashi . Per i od.
What i t t he di f f er ence bet ween `cur r i culum vi t ae' and `r esume' ?
(Ami t M angl ani , Al lahabad)
Cur r icul um Vi t ae comes f r om Lat i n, and i t means `cour se of l i f e' ; a CV
t her ef or e pr ovi des a conci se aut obi ogr aphy of an i ndi vi dual . Si nce it i s
meant t o pr ovi de a det ai l ed account of an i ndi vi dual ' s achi evement s, a C.V.
t ends t o be l engt hi er (2-8 pages) t han t he nor mal l y cr i sp r esume (usual l y,
not mor e t han t wo pages). Accor di ng t o some people, t he t er m CV shoul d
be used onl y in t he cont ext of academi cs; i n al l ot her cases, r esume shoul d
be used. Thi s di st i nct i on i s sel dom mai nt ai ned, and t her e i s a t endency t o
use t he t wo words i nt erchangeabl y nowadays. The main ai m of wr i t i ng a CV
or a r esume i s t o get t he per son r eadi ng i t t o cal l you f or an i nt er vi ew.
Out si de mar r i age hal l s, we see si gns t hat say, `Br i de mar r i es Br i degr oom' .
Some r ead, `Br i degr oom mar r i es Br i de' . Whi ch i s cor r ect ?
(R. Ramesh, Bangal or e)
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How does i t mat t er ? Ei t her way i t l eads t o unhappi ness! Her e' s my quest ion.
Why do you need t his si gn? Who el se i s t he br i de goi ng t o mar r y? She has t o
mar r y t he gr oom; she can' t possi bl y mar r y t he `best man' !
`Wel l , i f cr i me f ight er s f i ght cr i me and f ir e f i ght er s f i ght f i r e, w hat do
What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of `above boar d' ?
(B. Raj asekhar an, Bangal or e)
When you say t hat a par t i cul ar deal was above boar d, what you ar e impl yi ng
i s t hat t her e was no hanky panky invol ved. In ot her words, i t was honest and
l egal . The ki nd of deal t hat you don' t gener al ly associ at e wi t h our poli t i ci ans.
If a pol i t i ci an i s i nvol ved i n a deal, you can be pr et t y sur e t hat i t i s not above
boar d.
Raj u is st r ai ght as t hey come. Al l hi s deali ngs ar e above boar d.
Ther e ar e sever al expl anat i ons f or t he or i gi n of t hi s i diom. Accor di ng t o one,
t he `boar d' r ef er s t o a t abl e. Ther ef or e when you say t hat a deal was `above
boar d' , what you mean i s t hat i t was done i n an open manner t he hands
of t he par t i ci pant s i nvolved i n t he deal wer e out in t he open. Ther e was no
under hand deal ing invol ved. Anot her expl anat i on has t o do wi t h t he
smuggl i ng of goods on shi ps. In t he ol d days, peopl e who smuggl ed t hi ngs
al ways kept t hem hi dden bel ow deck. The l egal car go woul d be pl aced i n
pl ai n si ght on t he deck. In ot her w or ds, anyt hi ng t hat w as pl aced on t he
deck was consi der ed `above boar d' !
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Is i t OK t o say, `The Pr esi dent Abdul Kalam vi si t ed Chennai l ast week' ?
(Bal u, Ti r uchi r apal l i )
If you w ant t o i ncl ude an i ndi vidual ' s name w i t h t i t l es l i ke `Queen' , `Ki ng' ,
`Pr i me M i ni st er ' and `Pr esi dent ' , t hen you nor mal l y don' t use t he def i ni t e
ar t i cl e `t he' . For exampl e, we do not say, `The Queen El i zabet h dr ank
cof f ee' . We can ei t her say, `The Queen dr ank cof f ee' or `Queen El i zabet h
dr ank cof f ee' . Your sent ence i s t her ef ore w r ong. You can ei t her say, `The
Pr esi dent vi si t ed Chennai l ast week' or `Pr esi dent Abdul Kal am vi si t ed
Chennai l ast w eek.'
What i s t he meani ng and or i gi n of `t o eat out of one' s hand' ?
(D. V. Rao, Vi zag)
When you have someone `eat i ng out of your hand' , you succeed i n get t i ng
hi m t o do what ever you want . The i ndi vi dual becomes ver y submi ssi ve.
* Wi t hi n no t i me, t he f or mer f i l m st ar had all t he of f i ce empl oyees eat ing out
of her hand.
* As a young man, he dr eamed t hat he woul d have hi s wi f e eat i ng out of his
hand.
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The expr essi on comes f r om t he wor l d of ani mal t r ai ni ng. You know t hat a
wi l d ani mal has been t amed when you succeed i n get t i ng i t t o eat somet hi ng
of f your hands, w i t hout get t i ng bi t t en.
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `eat l i ke a hor se' and `eat l i ke a pi g' ?
(G. Sail aj a, Hyder abad)
Hor ses and pi gs ar e known t o have good appet i t es. Ther ef or e when you say
t hat someone eat s l i ke a horse or a pig, what you ar e impl yi ng i s t hat t he
i ndi vidual consumes a l ot of f ood. Car ef ul user s of t he l anguage mai nt ai n a
subt l e di st i nct i on bet ween t he t wo expr essi ons. When you say t hat
someone eat s l i ke a pi g, i t has a negat i ve connot at i on. Pi gs ar e supposed t o
be r at her noi sy eat er s. They sl ur p, gr unt , and dr ool when t hey eat . I am sur e
ot her animal s do t he same t hi ng, but unf or t unat el y f or t he pi g, i t i s always
associ at ed wi t h t hese t hi ngs. Ther ef or e when you say, `He eat s l ike a pi g' ,
what you mean is t hat he eat s a l ot , and has ver y bad t abl e manner s.
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `def ence' and `def ense' ?
(P. K. Iyengar , Hyder abad)
We know t hat when i t comes t o spel l i ng, t her e i s some di f f er ence bet ween
Amer i can and Br i t i sh Engl i sh. Thi s pai r i s anot her exampl e. The Br i t ish spel l i t
`def ence' and t he Amer i cans spel l i t `def ense' . Donal d Rumsf el d, f or
exampl e, i s t he `Secr et ar y of Def ense' . Ther e ar e many pai rs of wor ds i n
Engl i sh whi ch ar e spel t bot h w i t h a `c' and an `s' . For exampl e, advi ce, advi se
and pr act ice, pr act i se. In t he t wo exampl es, t he noun f or m of t he wor d i s
spel t w i t h a `c' and t he ver b f or m i s spelt w i t h an `s' .
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I don' t f i nd `bi t t er gour d' in t he di ct i onar y. Does t he veget abl e have anot her
name?
(Jai , M umbai )
I under st and t hat t he veget abl e i s also cal led `bal sam appl e' and `bal sam
pear ' .
What i s t he meani ng of `da bomb' ?
(R. Kr i shna, M angal or e)
Thi s i s a sl ang expr essi on of r ecent or i gi n and i s nor mal ly used t o t al k about
a per son or a t hi ng. When you r ef er t o an indi vi dual as bei ng `da bomb' or
`t he bomb' what you mean i s t hat he/ she i s out st andi ng. The expr essi on i s
most l y used in Amer i can Engl i sh.
* You shoul d see t he movi e. I t ell you, i t i s da bomb.
* You ar e t aki ng a cour se wi t h Jai ? I am t ol d when it comes t o t eachi ng, he i s
da bomb.
" Ther e ar e t hr ee ways t o get somet hi ng done: 1) Do i t your sel f ; 2) Hir e
someone t o do i t f or you; 3) For bi d your ki ds t o do i t ." Unknow n
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What i s t he meani ng of `go t he whol e hog' ?
(P. Revat hi , Bangal or e)
Thi s i s an expr essi on most l y used i n i nf or mal cont ext s. When you `go t he
whol e hog' , you do somet hi ng t hor oughl y; you do not compr omi se in any
way. It has t he same meani ng as `go al l t he way' . Amer i cans t end t o say `go
w hol e hog' .
* When t he mechanic t ol d me how much it woul d cost t o r epai r t he ol d car , I
deci ded t o go whol e hog and buy a new one i nst ead.
* Gayat hr i went t he whol e hog and bought mat chi ng sl i pper s and ear r i ngs t o
go wi t h her new dr ess.
Accor di ng t o one t heor y, t he `hog' i n t he i di om doesn' t r ef er t o a pig, but t o
money. In t he 18t h Cent ur y, t he w or d `hog' w as a sl ang t er m f or `shi l l i ng' . So
w hen you w ent t he w hol e hog, you spent t he ent i r e shi l l i ng at once. The
expr essi on became popul ar i n t he Uni t ed St at es when Andr ew Jackson r an
f or Pr esi dent in 1828. Thi s gave r i se t o t he expr essi on `w hol e hogger ' t o
mean someone who woul d see a mat t er t hr ough, come what may!
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `ambi ence' and `ambi ance' ?
(Nor i Kur mai ah, Vishakapat nam)
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The Fr ench spel l i t `ambi ance' , whi l e most peopl e i n t he U.S. spel l i t
`ambi ence' . As f ar as t he meani ng is concer ned, t her e i s no di f f er ence
bet w een t he t w o w or ds. The `a' i n `ambi ence' is l i ke t he `a' i n `cat ' , act ' , and
`bat ' , w hi l e t he f ol l ow ing `i ' i s l ike t he `i ' i n `pi t ' , `bi t ' , and `f i t ' . The `e' i n t he
t hi r d syl l abl e sounds l ike t he `a' in `chi na' and t he f i nal `e' i s si l ent . The main
st r ess i s on t he f ir st syl l abl e. Thi s i s one way of pr onounci ng t he wor d.
`Ambi ence/ ambi ance' i s nor mal ly used t o r ef er t o t he at mospher e of a
pl ace.
What is t he or i gi n of `ni t pi cki ng' ?
(V. S. Rat heesh, Thr i ssur )
M onkeys and gor i l las do t hi s al l t he t i me. Among human bei ngs, mot her s
per f or m t hi s dut y once i n a w hi le. Any i dea w hat a ni t is? M ost of us have
come home wi t h t hi s unwant ed vi si t or on a f ew occasi ons. Ni t s ar e t he eggs
of l i ce or any ot her par asi t i c i nsect s. When our head becomes i nf est ed wi t h
l i ce, w hat i s i t t hat our mot her s do? They r un a speci al comb t hr ough our
hai r and t hen peer i nt ent l y at t he comb. Whenever t hey spot a l ouse, t hey
pr oceed t o squash t he insect ; t hey pick t hem of f one by one. Get t i ng r i d of
t hese smal l , but i r r i t at i ng i nsect s f r om one' s head can be an over whel mi ng
t ask. Ever y i nch of t he head has t o be car ef ul ly exami ned and you spend a
l ot of t i me l ooki ng f or t hem. The or i gi nal meani ng of ni t pi cki ng was
t her ef or e l ooki ng f or l i ce and t hei r eggs. Wi t h t he passage of t i me, however ,
t he expr essi on acqui r ed anot her meani ng. It began t o be used t o r ef er t o
someone w ho looks at t he t r i vi al det ai l s and f inds f aul t s w i t h t hem.
* Ther e was a l ot of nit pi cki ng goi ng on as t o what t ype of bouquet shoul d be
gi ven t o t he chi ef guest .
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* Let ' s st op w it h t he ni t pi cki ng. Tel l me w hat you t hi nk of t he pl an.
`Ther e' s a way of t r ansf er r i ng f unds t hat i s even f ast er t han el ect r oni c
banki ng. It ' s cal l ed mar r i age.' James Hol t M cGavr an
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `f at al ' and `f at ef ul ' ?
(B. Anushka, Nagpur )
Somet i mes it i s r epor t ed i n newspaper s t hat a man i nvol ved i n a f at al
acci dent was admit t ed t o t he l ocal hospi t al . You wonder why because
anyt hi ng t hat i s f at al al ways r esul t s i n t he deat h of an i ndi vi dual .
* Di l i p' s deci si on t o wal k acr oss t he f r ozen l ake pr oved f at al .
The sent ence suggest s t hat Di l ip dr ow ned i n t he l ake. `Fat al ' can be used
wi t h abst r act t hi ngs as wel l . For exampl e, one can say, " The sl oppy manner
i n whi ch Akshay di d t he pr oj ect pr oved f at al t o hi s car eer ." " The ar t i cl e in
t he t abl oi ds about t he st ar ' s w i l d par t i es pr oved f at al t o hi s mar r i age." In
bot h t hese sent ences, t he wor d is used t o mean di sast r ous or dest r uct i ve.
Fat ef ul is r el at ed t o f at e. When you t alk about a f at ef ul day, you mean t hat
i t was a day t hat changed your f ut ur e or your dest i ny t he out come i s
usual l y bad.
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* Ganguly wi l l al ways r emember t he f at ef ul day he went t o t he pr ess t o
compl ai n about hi s new coach.
What i s t he meani ng of `f ace i n t he cr owd' ?
(Ravi ndr anat h Nal am, Hyder abad)
When t her e ar e a l ot of peopl e ar ound you and t her e i s not hi ng about you
whi ch makes you st and out , t hen you say t hat you ar e j ust a f ace i n t he
cr ow d. You go unnot i ced by most i ndi vidual s. It i s what happens t o most of
us when we go t o t he st adi um t o wat ch a one-day i nt er nat i onal ; we become
a f ace i n t he cr owd.
* Nar ender hat es at t endi ng bi g par t i es. He doesn' t l i ke bei ng a f ace in t he
cr ow d.
What i s t he meani ng and or i gi n of `pl eased as Punch' ?
(P. M yt hr eye, Secunder abad)
Thi s i di om, whi ch Ravi Shast r i uses qui t e f r equent l y whi le comment at i ng,
has been ar ound f or over 400 year s. Someone who i s pl eased as Punch i s
ext r emely happy; he/ she i s el at ed.
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* Devi das was pl eased as Punch when he got hi s pr omot i on.
The `Punch' i n t he idi om has not hi ng t o do w i t h t he dr i nk or t he blow t hat
vi l lai ns seem t o r ecei ve f r om our f il m her oes. It r ef ers t o a char act er i n a
17t h Cent ur y puppet show cal l ed `Punch and Judy' . The mai n char act er ,
Punch, was a ver y cont ent per son who sang cheer f ul l y all t he t i me. Hence
t he expr essi on, pl eased as Punch.
Is i t OK t o say, `On t he li ght s, pl ease! '
(Aj i t Kumar , M eerut )
Thi s i s an expr essi on which i s commonl y hear d in Indi a. We ask peopl e t o
`on t he l i ght s' , `on t he TV' , `on t he t ap' and `on t he heat er ' . Nat ive speaker s
of Engl i sh w i l l not ask you t o `on' any of t hese t hi ngs. Inst ead t hey w i l l ask
you t o `swi t ch' or `t ur n somet hi ng on' . For exampl e:
* Coul d you t ur n on t he TV, pl ease!
* Woul d you l i ke me t o t ur n on/ swi t ch on t he f an?
By t he way, you do not say, `swi t ch on/ t ur n on t he t ap' . It ' s al ways
`open/ cl ose t he t ap' .
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `anyw ay' and `anyw ays' ?
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(K. Sanchi t h, Bangal or e)
As f ar as t he meani ng i s concer ned, t her e i s no di f f er ence bet ween t he t wo
wor ds. `Anyways' i s most l y used i n Amer i can Engl i sh and i s consi der ed non-
st andar d. If you use i t i n i nf or mal cont ext s in your speech, you coul d
pr obabl y get aw ay w i t h it . The w or d w i ll not be accept ed i n wr i t i ng. The
wor d `anyhow' has t he same meani ng as `anyway' .
* Ashwi ni says t hat she doesn' t want t o get mar r i ed. Not now,
anyway/ anyhow.
What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of `wear i ng one' s hear t on one' s sl eeve' ?
(Ut hr a, Chennai )
Thi s i s an i di om t hat has been ar ound f or sever al cent ur i es. When you wear
your hear t on your sl eeve, you make your f eel i ngs cl ear t o ever yone; in
ot her wor ds, you don' t hide your emot ions. If you ar e in love wi t h someone,
you make i t know n t o everyone t hat you ar e cr azy about t his per son.
* It ' s di f f i cul t t o know w hat Asha i s t hi nki ng. She doesn' t w ear her hear t on
her sl eeve.
Dur i ng t he M i ddl e Ages, when kni ght s f ought each ot her , t hey woul d
dedi cat e t heir per f or mance t o a woman of t he cour t usual l y someone
t hey wer e in l ove wi t h or car ed f or . To l et ever yone know who t hey wer e in
l ove w i t h, t he kni ght s used t o pi n ont o t hei r sl eeves a hanky or a scar f
bel ongi ng t o t he woman.
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What is t he di f f er ence bet ween `speak Engl i sh' and `speak i n Engl i sh' ?
(P. Jagadi sh, Si vakasi )
When you ask someone t o `speak i n Engl i sh' , what you want hi m t o do i s t o
use t he Engl i sh l anguage. Per haps he i s speaki ng i n a language t hat you
don' t under st and, and t her ef or e you want hi m t o t alk t o you i n Engl i sh. Thi s
i s t he l anguage t hat you w ant hi m t o use on t hi s par t i cul ar occasi on. When
you say t hat he `speaks Engl i sh' , what you mean i s t hat t he i ndi vi dual know s
and has t he abi l i t y t o use t he l anguage. In Indi a, f or exampl e, many of us can
speak t wo or mor e l anguages, and dependi ng on t he cont ext we choose t o
speak i n a par t icul ar language.
* The CEO speaks f i ve l anguages. At t he pr ess conf er ence, he spoke i n
Engl i sh.
When somebody says `Sor r y' , we usual l y r espond by sayi ng `Never mi nd' .
Ar e t her e any ot her al t er nat i ves?
(K. Radhakr i shnamur t hy, Ongol e)
Yes, t her e ar e. It ' s ver y common t o hear peopl e say, `It ' s al l r i ght ' , `It ' s OK' ,
`No pr obl em' , `No bi g deal' , and `Don' t wor r y about i t ' . These ar e j ust a f ew
of t he al t er nat i ves.
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" Al ways go t o ot her peopl e' s f uner al s. Ot her wi se t hey won' t come t o your s."
Yogi Ber r a
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `ext empor e' and `i mpr ompt u' ?
(G. J. Gnanapr agasm, Sal em)
M ost peopl e use t he t wo wor ds i nt er changeabl y t o mean `spont aneousl y' .
Car ef ul user s of t he l anguage, however , mai nt ai n a di st i nct i on bet ween t he
t wo. The wor d `ext empor e' i s nor mal l y associ at ed wi t h publ i c speaki ng.
When you gi ve a speech ext empor e, you gi ve i t w i t h no not es. Ther e i s no
memor i sat i on i nvol ved ei t her . You st and bef or e t he audi ence and t al k, but
t hi s doesn' t mean t hat you haven' t gi ven t he subj ect mat t er any t hought .
You may have been gi ven your t opic a mont h i n advance, and you come so
w el l pr epar ed t hat you choose t o speak w i t hout not es. The w or d
`i mpr ompt u' i s nor mal l y used w it h musi cal per f or mances. In t hi s case, t he
per f or mer does not play a pi ece t hat he has r ehear sed; i nst ead, he cr eat es
t he musi c as he goes al ong. When t he wor d i s used i n r el at i on t o publ ic
speaki ng, i t suggest s t hat t her e i s no pl anni ng or pr emedi t at i on i nvol ved. An
i mpr ompt u speech i s one when you ar e asked t o speak al l of a sudden,
wi t hout any pr i or war ni ng. In t hi s case, you have l i t t l e or no t i me t o pr epar e;
you make up your speech as you go al ong. M any peopl e do not mai nt ai n t hi s
subt l e di st i nct i on bet ween t he t wo wor ds nowadays.
What is t he meani ng of `sexi ng up a document ' ?
(Sar vanan, Chennai )
Though t hi s expr essi on has been ar ound f or some t i me, i t became popul ar
when Dr . Kel l y accused t he Bl ai r Gover nment of havi ng " sexed up" i t s r epor t
on Ir aq' s Weapons of M ass Dest r uct i on. When you `sex up' a document you
108
make changes i n i t so t hat t he cont ent is much mor e i nt er est i ng or exci t i ng
t o r ead. In ot her wor ds, t hi ngs ar e hyped up or spi ced up. The expr essi on
has a negat i ve connot at i on.
* M y boss want s me t o sex up t he document f or t he medi a.
Some men gr ow t hei r hair l ong i n or der t o cover t hei r bald spot s. Is t her e a
w or d f or t hi s?
(G. Kal avat hy, Chennai )
Yes, t her e i s `combover ' . It ' s cal l ed a combover because what t hese men
usual l y do i s t o al l ow t he hair on one si de of t heir head t o gr ow l ong and
t hen t hey pr oceed t o comb i t over t he t op of t hei r head t o hi de t hei r
bal dness. The bi l li onai r e Donal d Tr ump, t he man you see in t he ser i es " The
Appr ent i ce" , has a combover .
What i s t he meani ng of `st ay t he cour se' ?
(D. V. Rao, Visakhapat nam)
When Pr esi dent Bush t al ks about t he si t uat i on i n Ir aq, one of t he sent ences
t hat he r epeat s very of t en is, " We must st ay t he cour se" . When you st ay t he
cour se, you cont i nue t o do what you have been doi ng al l al ong. No mat t er
how di f f icul t or t ime consumi ng t he t ask may be, you keep at i t t i l l you
compl et e it . You st and f ir m in pur sui ng your goal . So what t he Amer i can
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Pr esi dent is sayi ng t hat t he U.S. must st ay in Ir aq t il l t her e is some
sembl ance of peace in t he count r y.
* Li st en Raj esh! Gi vi ng up smoki ng i s not goi ng t o be easy. You must st ay t he
cour se.
* The di et my wi f e has put me on is ki l l i ng me. But I need t o lose wei ght . So I
have deci ded t o st ay t he cour se.
Accor di ng t o some schol ar s, t he `cour se' r ef er s t o t he r acet r ack. In t hi s case,
i t ' s t he hor se t hat st ands f i r m t o r each t he f i ni sh l ine hopef ul ly i n a
wi nni ng posi t i on!
" How can he al r eady have a headache? I j ust got her e! " Denni s t he
M enace
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `l ear ned' and `l ear nt ' ?
(Jat i n Nagpal , Del hi )
Ther e ar e many ver bs l ike t hi s: dr eamed, dr eamt ; spoi led, spoi l t ; kneel ed,
knel t , et c. When used as a ver b, bot h `lear nt ' and `l ear ned' have t he same
meani ng. You can say:
* I have l ear ned/ l ear nt a l ot f r om Ganesh t hi s semest er .
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* Our new bowl er has l ear ned/ l ear nt t o bowl t he `doosr a' .
Accor di ng t o some schol ar s, `l ear ned' i s mor e common in Amer i can Engl i sh,
w hi l e `l ear nt ' i s used f r equent l y i n Br i t i sh Engl i sh. When `l ear ned' i s used as
a ver b, it is monosyl l abi c. In f act , some peopl e pr onounce i t l i ke t he w or d
`l ear nt ' . Ot her s pr onounce t he f i nal `ed' l i ke t he `d' in `di p' , `deep' , and `do' .
When t he wor d `lear ned' i s used as an adj ect i ve t o mean `schol ar ly' , i t i s
pr onounced as a w or d w i t h t w o syl l abl es. The f i nal `ed' i s pr onounced l ike
t he `ed' i n `want ed' , `gr ounded' , and `hat ed' .
* As expect ed, t he l ear ned pr of essor bor ed t he poor st udent s t o deat h.
Whi ch i s cor r ect `Pet r ol st at i on' or `pet r ol bunk' ?
(A. K. Ar unachal am, Kancheepur am)
The t er m `pet r ol bunk' is most ly used by Indi ans. Nat i ve speaker s of Engl i sh
do not use i t . An Engl i shman woul d t ake hi s car t o t he `pet r ol pump' or t he
`pet r ol st at i on' t o get i t f i l l ed. An Amer i can, on t he ot her hand, woul d t ake
hi s vehi cl e t o t he `gas st at i on' in or der t o `f i l l her up' .
Is i t okay t o say, `Hear t f el t congr at ulat i ons! ' ?
(K. Vi svanat han, Coi mbat or e)
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I asked sever al peopl e about t hi s, and all of t hem sai d, `No' . But accor di ng t o
t he Oxf or d Coll ocat i ons Dict i onar y, i t i s al l r i ght t o say, `hear t f el t
congr at ul at i ons' . You shoul d r emember, however , t he wor d `hear t f el t '
meani ng `si ncer e' i s used when we ar e deepl y st i r r ed or moved by
somet hi ng. It is usuall y associ at ed w i t h emot i ons l i nked w i t h sadness. One
can t al k about `hear t f el t sympat hi es' , `hear t f el t condol ences' , et c. But i t i s
al so possi bl e t o say, `hear t f elt t hanks' and `hear t f el t j oy' . `Hear t y' , on t he
ot her hand, suggest s hi gh spi r i t edness, vi gour and ener gy. You can t al k
about `hear t y l aught er ' , `hear t y appet i t e' , et c. You cannot say `hear t y
condol ences' .
What is t he meani ng of `eat i ng someone' s l unch' ?
(Dr . M ut hi ah, Thi r uvanant hapur am)
Thi s i s an expr essi on which i s used i n management . When a company `eat s
t he l unch' of anot her company, i t aggr essi vely market s i t s pr oduct s and
succeeds i n maki ng i nr oads int o t he ot her company' s mar ket shar e.
What i s t he meani ng and or igi n of `t aki ng t he w i nd out of one' s sai l s' ?
(Vi j aya Sel vam, Sr i vi l l iput t ur )
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When you t ake t he wi nd out of someone' s sai l s, you succeed i n dent i ng his
conf i dence. You achi eve t hi s by doi ng or sayi ng somet hi ng t hat t he
i ndi vidual does not expect .
* Usha was r eal ly angr y wi t h her husband. But when he came home wi t h
f l ow er s and a sar ee, i t t ook t he w i nd out of her sai l s.
You have t o r emember t hat i n t he ol d days, shi ps depended on t he wi nd t o
get f r om one pl ace t o anot her . If you wer e t o r ob a shi p t hat i s sai li ng next
t o you of t he wi nd, what woul d happen? The wi nd woul d be t aken out of i t s
sai l s and as a r esul t , t he shi p woul d st al l.
`When I was a boy, t he Dead Sea was onl y si ck.' Geor ge Bur ns
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `among' and `amongst ' ?
(R. Chet an, Bangal or e)
As f ar as t he meani ng i s concer ned, t her e i s no di f f er ence bet ween t he t wo
wor ds, and ver y of t en t he t wo ar e used i nt er changeabl y. When you ar e
among/ amongst a gr oup of peopl e, you ar e sur r ounded by t hem. Some
peopl e ar gue t hat `amongst ' is r at her old f ashi oned and shoul d not be used.
Car ef ul user s of t he l anguage mai nt ai n t hat `amongst ' , when used, shoul d
come at t he begi nni ng of sent ences. When it occur s i n t he mi ddl e, i t shoul d
be used bef or e wor ds begi nni ng wi t h vowel s.
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `t oo' and `ver y' ?
(Ni khi l Par anj ape, Noi da)
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If someone wer e t o say t o you, `You ar e ver y shor t ' , he i s mer ely st at i ng a
f act . He is t el l ing you t hat you ar e r at her shor t . Per haps you ar e onl y f ive
f eet t al l . He i s not compar i ng you w i t h anyone or anyt hi ng. If he says, `You
ar e t oo shor t ' , i t suggest s t hat you ar e shor t er t han necessar y f or somet hi ng.
Per haps what t he per son i s t r yi ng t o t el l you i s t hat you ar e t oo shor t t o pl ay
basket bal l . You may be f i ve f eet t en inches, but you ar e not t al l enough t o
pl ay basket bal l . You do not have t he adequat e height t o play t he game. The
wor d `t oo' car r i es wi t h i t t he meani ng `mor e t han enough' , `mor e t han
want ed' and `mor e t han necessar y' . Af t er an i nt er vi ew, i f you wer e t o say,
`The quest i ons wer e ver y dif f i cul t ' , what you mean i s t hat t he quest i ons
wer e ext r emel y har d, but per haps you di d manage t o answer t hem. On t he
ot her hand, if you wer e t o say, `The quest i ons wer e t oo di f f i cul t ' , what you
mean i s t hat t he quest i ons wer e so di f f i cul t t hat you coul dn' t answ er t hem.
* Though it w as ver y hot , t he ki ds pl ayed cr i cket al l day l ong.
* It was t oo hot t o pl ay cr icket . The ki ds st ayed home and wat ched TV.
What ar e t he Si amese t wi ns of t he Engl i sh language?
(S. N. Pr asad, Hyder abad)
Expr essi ons l i ke `t o and f r o' , `saf e and sound' , `t ake i t or leave i t ' , and
`r hyme or r eason' ar e some of t he Si amese t wi ns of t he Engl i sh language.
They ar e usual l y expr essi ons j oi ned t oget her by `and' or `or ' . Like t he t wi ns,
t he t wo wor ds i n t hese expr essi ons ar e i nsepar abl e; t hei r or der is f i xed and
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t hey have onl y one meani ng. You cannot say, `sound and saf e' or `l eave i t or
t ake it ' .
What is t he or i gi n of t he w or d `duf f er ' ?
(L. Vi mal a, M ysor e)
We use t he wor d `duf f er' nowadays t o r ef er t o someone who i s st upi d or
someone who i s ver y bad at doi ng somet hi ng. The wor d i s consi der ed t o be
r at her ol d f ashi oned.
* Reema t ol d me t hat Ganesh was a duf f er at f oot bal l .
* Pl ease, not Si t a! I don' t want t hat duf f er i n my t eam.
When t he w or d was f i r st used, i t had not hi ng t o do w i t h peopl e w ho had
l i t t l e or no i nt el l i gence. In f act , t he or i gi nal duf f er was someone who sol d
spur i ous goods. He was a cheat , a no good peddl er of ver y l ow mor al s. Wi t h
t he passage of t i me, however , t he meani ng `no good' shi f t ed f r om t he sel l er
t o t he nave buyer . He was `no good' because he was st upi d enough t o be
easi l y t r i cked int o buyi ng somet hi ng quest i onabl e. In t he l at e 19t h Cent ur y,
t he wor d began t o be used t o r ef er t o someone who was r eal l y bad at gol f !
What i s t he meani ng of `hear t si nk pat i ent ' ?
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(S. Subr amani yam, Bangal or e)
Thi s i s not a pat i ent wit h a hear t pr obl em; in f act , he i s one who cr eat es
pr obl ems f or t he poor doct or . We have al l met i ndi vi dual s who const ant l y
compl ai n about t hei r heal t h. They may not have any pr obl em at all , but
ever y t ime t hey see us, t hey but t onhole us and gi ve us a l ong l ect ur e about
t hei r i magi nar y ai l ment s. These i ndi vi dual s not onl y bor e us, but also t hei r
unf or t unat e doct or s; t hey vi si t t he poor man r epeat edl y and compl ai n
per si st ent ly about t hei r uni dent i f i abl e ai l ment s. Whenever t he doct or sees
one such pat i ent walki ng i nt o hi s of f i ce, how do you t hi nk he f eel s? Pr et t y
depr essed, r i ght ? Hi s hear t si nks on seei ng hi m. Hence t he expr essi on,
`hear t si nk pat i ent ' .
What i s t he meani ng and or i gi n of `l i ke a cat on a hot t i n r oof ' ?
(D. V. M . Sast r y, Vi sakapat nam)
How do you t hi nk a cat i s l i kely t o r eact w hen i t l ands on a t i n r oof t hat i s
pr et t y hot ? It ' s goi ng t o be pr et t y j umpy, r i ght ? The poor ani mal wi l l
pr obabl y j ump f r om one spot t o anot her , t r yi ng t o f i nd a cool pl ace t o st and.
When you say t hat an i ndi vidual is l i ke a cat on a hot t i n r oof , w hat you
mean i s t hat he l ooks ver y ner vous; he i s unabl e t o si t or st and st i l l i n one
pl ace.
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* You shoul d have seen Sur endr an bef or e t he i nt er vi ew. He was l i ke a cat on
a hot t i n r oof .
* What ' s wr ong wi t h Hema? She i s l ike a cat on a hot t i n r oof .
Is i t OK t o say, `None of t hem have... ' ?
(K. Jayashankar , Cochi n)
Peopl e who l ove t hei r gr ammar woul d ar gue t hat t he sent ence i s wr ong.
They woul d want `none' t o be f ol l owed by t he si ngul ar ver b `has' . In
i nf or mal cont ext s, however , t her e i s a t endency, even among nat i ve
speaker s of Engl i sh, t o use t he pl ur al `have' . In Amer i can Engl i sh, i t i s ver y
common f or peopl e t o say, `None of t he movi es wer e a hi t ' and `None of t he
guys w er e good l ooki ng' .
What i s t he di f f er ence bet w een `avocat i on' and `vocat i on' ?
(Al ok Kumar , Kanchi pur am)
Some peopl e r ef er t o t hei r j ob as t hei r `vocat i on' . What t hey mean by t hi s i s
t hat t hey have f ound t he j ob t hat t hey ar e par t i cul ar l y sui t ed f or . They
bel i eve i t i s t hei r cal l i ng, and t hey t ake i t up because t hey wish t o hel p ot her
peopl e.
* I am t ol d t hat hi s vocat i on is banki ng.
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An `avocat i on' is a hobby. It i s an act i vi t y t hat you enj oy doi ng, but i t ' s not
t he t hi ng t hat put s br ead on t he t abl e. The wor d i s consi der ed f or mal .
* Shai l aj a t ol d me t hat her avocat i on i s paint i ng.
* You' d bet t er deci de whet her you want t o make gol f your vocat i on or
avocat i on.
Is i t OK t o say, `Boar di ng and lodgi ng' ?
(S. Akbar Al i, Tr ichy)
In Indi a i t i s because most hot el s inf or m us t hat t hey have bot h `boar di ng
and l odgi ng' . Nat i ve
speaker s of Engl i sh t al k about `boar d and l odgi ng' .
`When I w as bor n, I w as so sur pr i sed I coul dn' t t al k f or a year and a hal f .'
Gr aci e Al l en
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What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of `keep your powder dr y' ?
(M anoj Kumar Vohr a, Far idabad)
The powder i n t he idi om r ef er s t o gunpowder and not t al cum powder not
t he `gunpow der ' t hat w e eat w i t h our i dl i s ei t her ! Thi s i s t he r eal t hi ng. In
t he ol d days, gunpowder and a st eel ball had t o be pushed down t he bar r el
of a gun, bef or e i t coul d be f i r ed. The powder had t o r emain dry f or t he gun
t o f ir e. If it got w et , t he gun coul dn' t be f i r ed. Peopl e car r yi ng guns t ook
pr ecaut i ons t o keep t he powder dry. When you t el l someone t o keep hi s
powder dr y, you ar e aski ng hi m t o r emai n cal m and be r eady f or act i on. Si r
Ol i ver Cr omwel l i s bel i eved t o have coi ned t hi s expr essi on. Bef or e cr ossi ng a
r i ver t o at t ack hi s enemy, he t ol d hi s t r oops: " Put your t r ust in God, but be
sur e t o keep your pow der dr y."
* The sol di er s wer e asked t o keep t heir powder dr y and awai t or der s.
* Don' t pani c, you underst and? Al l I am aski ng you t o do is t o keep your
pow der dr y.
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `t r avel ler ' and `passenger ' ?
(Shanmuga Kumar , Chennai )
A t r avel l er is someone who goes f r om one pl ace t o anot her . This coul d be
f r om one ci t y t o anot her or f r om one count r y t o anot her . An i ndi vi dual
movi ng about t he ci t y i n whi ch he l i ves cannot be cal led a t r avel l er . A
t r avel l er can get f r om one pl ace t o anot her by di f f er ent means an
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aer opl ane, a shi p, a car , a bul l ock car t , a hor se, et c. The t r avel l er may even
choose t o wal k f r om one pl ace t o anot her al l al one; af t er all , t hat ' s how a l ot
of peopl e t r avel l ed i n t he ol d days. A passenger , on t he ot her hand, i s
someone who i s never al one; he al ways t r avel s in t he company of ot her s.
Fur t her mor e, a passenger never wal ks; he i s always i n somet hi ng t hat is
manmade car , pl ane, t r ai n, shi p, car t , et c. Two peopl e si t t i ng on a hor se
cannot be cal led passenger s; t hey ar e bot h r i der s. But t wo peopl e si t t i ng i n a
coach being pul l ed by hor ses can be cal l ed `passenger s' . When you say t hat
someone is t he passenger , what i t i mpl i es i s t hat t he i ndi vi dual i s not t he
dr i ver . You can be a passenger in your homet own.
An unmar r i ed man i s cal l ed a `bachel or ' . What is an unmar r i ed woman
cal l ed?
(Khushboo, Kanpur )
A woman who i s young and st i l l si ngl e i s cal l ed a `bachel or et t e' . In f act ,
t her e was a r eal i t y show i n t he Uni t ed St at es by t hat name. You wi l l not f ind
t hi s w or d in most dict i onar i es. The w or d `spi nst er ' i s used t o r ef er t o a
mi ddl e aged or an ol d woman who has never mar r i ed. Unl i ke `spi nst er ' ,
`bachel or et t e' does not have a negat i ve connot at i on.
Does one `pr opose t o' or `pr opose' a gi r l ?
(Vasant h Kumar , Pi l ani )
You usual l y `pr opose' somet hi ng. For exampl e, I pr opose t hat we cancel
t omor r ow' s meet i ng. Dr avi d pr oposed t hat t he f ees be hi ked. When you ask
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a gi r l t o mar r y you, you pr opose `t o' her. It ' s about t i me you pr oposed t o
Shyamal a. Poor Vi mal , he pr oposed t o t hr ee gi r l s l ast semest er , and al l of
t hem t ur ned him dow n.
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween `wake up at 7' and `wake up by 7' ?
(J. Geet ha, Hyder abad)
When you wake up `at ' seven, you get out of bed at exact l y seven o' cl ock.
Not bef or e or af t er seven, but exact ly at seven. When you wake up `by'
seven o' cl ock, you get out of bed at seven or a f ew minut es bef or e seven.
* I t ol d my mot her t hat I woul d be home by 6:00 o' cl ock.
* Ganesh sai d he' d be back home by 7: 00 o' cl ock. He r et ur ned at 10: 00
o' cl ock
" I speak t w el ve l anguages. Engl i sh i s t he best est ." - St ef an Ber gman
How does one addr ess a di vor ced woman?
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(Sai l esh Pat el , Bangal or e)
How you addr ess her i s goi ng t o depend on t he woman. If she chooses t o
r et ai n her mar r i ed name, t hen you addr ess her `M r s.' so and so. If on t he
ot her hand, she chooses t o go back t o her mai den name, t hen you cal l her
`M s.' so and so. If you ar e unsur e, use one of t he t i t les and she w il l cor r ect
you i f you ar e in t he w r ong.
Is i t okay t o say, `You can cont act hi m i n 25435439 (t el ephone no)' ?
(R. J. Gul r aj ani , Chennai )
No, i t isn' t . You usual l y cont act someone `at ' a number . " If it ' s an
emer gency, you can cont act me at 22009988" . " I t r i ed t o cont act hi m at
22009988, but t he l i ne w as busy."
" Opi ni ons ar e l i ke f eet . Ever ybody' s got a coupl e, and t hey usual ly st i nk."
Ji m Sl at t er y
What i s t he meani ng and or i gi n of " wool -gat her i ng" ?
(M . M unavar Basha, Chennai )
When someone says t hat you have been wool -gat her i ng, what he means i s
t hat you haven' t been concent r at i ng on your wor k; you have been
daydr eami ng.
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* The pr of essor ' s t al k was r eal l y bor i ng. I f ound mysel f wool -gat her i ng.
* Di vya, your exams st ar t t he day af t er t omor r ow. St op wool -gat her i ng.
Thi s i s an expr essi on t hat has been ar ound f or sever al cent ur i es. As f or i t s
or i gi n, i t comes f r om t he w or l d of sheep f ar mi ng. In t he ol d days, w hen
f ar mer s al l owed t hei r sheep t o gr aze, t hey al ways sent a coupl e of women
or chi l dr en al ong wi t h t he ani mal s. When sheep gr azed, somet i mes t uf t s of
wool got caught i n t he bushes and on t he br anches of t r ees. It was t he j ob of
t he women/ chi l dr en t o gat her t he wool and hand i t over t o t he f ar mer . The
or i gi nal `w ool gat her er s' w er e act ual l y gat her i ng w ool ! Si nce t he j ob of w ool
gat her i ng di dn' t r equi r e much concent r at i on, i t was possi bl e f or t he
i ndi vi dual t o l et hi s mind wander in ot her wor ds, he coul d af f or d t o
daydr eam! Hence, t he act i vi t y of `wool -gat her i ng' became associ at ed wi t h
daydr eami ng!
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " i mpel " and " compel " ?
(M . Gayat hr i , Coi mbat or e)
When you compel someone t o do somet hi ng, you f or ce him t o do i t . The
i ndi vidual has no choi ce about t he mat t er . Whet her he l i kes i t or not , he has
t o do i t .
* Ravi ndr an' s par ent s compell ed hi m t o t ake Engl i sh l i t er at ur e.
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* The chi l dr en wer e compel l ed t o r et ur n by f i ve o' cl ock.
When you ar e " i mpel led" t o do somet hi ng, you f eel t hat you have t o do i t . In
t hi s case, t he desi r e t o t ake act i on comes f r om wi t hi n. No one i s f or ci ng you
t o do i t .
* The det ect i ve f el t i mpel led t o i nvest i gat e f ur t her .
* Looki ng at hi m, I f el t i mpel led t o of f er hi m mor e money.
Is i t okay t o say, " The wor ds she uses ar e uni nt el l i gi bl e f or me?"
(I. Revat hi , War r angal )
No, i t i sn' t . Somet hi ng i s i nt el l igi bl e or uni nt el l i gi bl e " t o" and not " f or "
someone. When you say t hat somet hi ng i s uni nt el li gi bl e, what you mean is
t hat it i s incompr ehensi bl e; it i s dif f i cul t t o under st and. The wor d has
not hi ng t o do w i t h i nt el li gence.
* The t eacher used a l ot of j ar gon whi ch was uni nt el l igi bl e t o t he st udent s.
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* What Chandu sai d was int el l i gi bl e t o t he audi ence.
" Cof f ee i n Engl and al ways t ast es l i ke a chemist r y exper i ment ." Agat ha
Chr i st i e
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " gr acef ul " and " gr aci ous" ?
(S. Janani , Vi j ayaw ada)
The wor d " gr acef ul " i s nor mal ly used t o r ef er t o a per son' s movement ; t he
i ndi vidual moves i n a w ay t hat is at t r act i ve t o w at ch.
* The young dancer moved gr acef ul l y acr oss t he st age.
* For someone who was t err i bl y over wei ght , Eshwar was sur pr i si ngl y
gr acef ul.
The w or d can al so be used t o t alk about an obj ect w hi ch is pl easi ng t o
l ooki ng at .
* He had a gr acef ul l i t t l e cot t age i n t he count r ysi de.
" Gr aci ous" , on t he ot her hand, r ef er s t o peopl e who ar e pl easant and pol i t e.
It i s consi der ed f or mal .
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* Janaki is t he gr aci ous l ady you met l ast week.
What is t he meani ng of t he wor d " doozy" ?
(R. Asw at h, Secunder abad)
Fi r st , l et ' s deal w i t h t he pr onunci at i on. The " oo" i n t he f i r st syl l abl e i s li ke
t he " oo" i n " cool " , " f ool " , and " pool" and t he " y" i s li ke t he " i " i n " pi t " , " hi t " ,
and " f it " . The w or d can al so be spelt " doosi e" ; t he pr onunci at i on i s t he same
as " doozy" . When you r ef er t o somet hi ng as being a " doozy" what you mean
i s t hat i t i s ext r aor di nar i l y good or bad.
* The annual day pr ogr amme was a r eal doozy t hi s year .
* You shoul d see Vi kr am' s bl ack eye. It ' s a r eal doozy.
" If your baby i s `beaut i f ul and per f ect , never cr i es or f usses, sl eeps on
schedul e and bur ps on demand, an angel al l t he t i me,' you' r e t he gr andma."
Ther esa Bl oomi ngdal e
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " weddi ng" and " mar r i age" ?
(C. Kavi t ha, Kur nool )
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Bot h wor ds ar e used t o r ef er t o act s r el i gi ous or ci vil by whi ch a man
and a woman become husband and wi f e. Of t he t wo, " mar r i age" is mor e
common. It can be used t o r ef er t o t he act ual cer emony t hat t akes pl ace or
t he spi r i t ual uni on ent er ed upon by t he t wo i ndi vi dual s.
* The t wo have had a l ong and happy mar r i age.
* I am sor r y t o say t hat I can' t be pr esent at your mar r i age.
" Weddi ng" is used t o r ef er t o t he cer emony and t he f est ivi t i es whi ch f ol l ow
i t . Unl i ke " mar r i age" , i t cannot be used t o t al k about t he r el at i onshi p
bet ween t he mar r i ed coupl e. A " weddi ng" may last onl y an hour , but you
can r emai n mar r i ed f or 40 year s.
* Vi ni t a' s weddi ng i s t oday. Unf or t unat el y, I won' t be abl e t o make i t .
* Pl ease don' t i nvi t e t oo many peopl e t o t he weddi ng.
What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of " j aywal ki ng" ?
(P. V. Sr i ni vasan, Chennai )
Jayw alki ng i s somet hi ng t hat w e Indi ans speci al i se i n. We cr oss t he r oad
w her ever w e l i ke; it ' s a t r i cky busi ness, but most of t he t i me w e manage t o
negot i at e t he t r af f i c. The wor d " j ay" i s a sl ang t er m coi ned i n t he U.S. i n t he
ear l y 20t h Cent ur y t o r ef er t o r ust i cs peopl e l i vi ng i n t he count r y. When
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" j ays" vi si t ed ci t i es, t hey had a t ough t i me cr ossi ng st r eet s because of t he
pr esence of aut omobi l es. These car s whi ch coul d r un at an i ncr edi bl e speed
of 15 mi les an hour scar ed t he l i vi ng dayli ght s out of t he " j ays" . Hence,
whenever t hese indi vi dual s cr ossed t he st r eet , t hey di d so ver y er r at i cal l y,
sel dom bot her i ng t o l ook at t he t r af f i c signal s.
What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of " j aywal ki ng" ?
(P. V. Sr i ni vasan, Chennai )
Jayw alki ng i s somet hi ng t hat w e Indi ans speci al i se i n. We cr oss t he r oad
w her ever w e l i ke; it ' s a t r i cky busi ness, but most of t he t i me w e manage t o
negot i at e t he t r af f i c. The wor d " j ay" i s a sl ang t er m coi ned i n t he U.S. i n t he
ear l y 20t h Cent ur y t o r ef er t o r ust i cs peopl e l i vi ng i n t he count r y. When
" j ays" vi si t ed ci t i es, t hey had a t ough t i me cr ossi ng st r eet s because of t he
pr esence of aut omobi l es. These car s whi ch coul d r un at an i ncr edi bl e speed
of 15 mi les an hour scar ed t he l i vi ng dayli ght s out of t he " j ays" . Hence,
whenever t hese indi vi dual s cr ossed t he st r eet , t hey di d so ver y er r at i cal l y,
sel dom bot her i ng t o l ook at t he t r af f i c signal s.
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " somet i me" , " somet i mes" and " some
t i me" ?
(G. Suchi t r a, Hyder abad)
The w or d " somet i mes" has t he st r ess on t he f i r st syl l abl e, and i s used t o
mean " occasi onal l y" or " once i n a whi l e" .
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* The boys somet i mes go t o t hei r f avour i t e r est aur ant f or masal a dosas.
* Somet i mes, t he st udent s si t in t he cant een and do t hei r homewor k.
In t he case of " some t i me" , bot h wor ds ar e st r essed. It means " a l ot of
t i me" .
* I am af r ai d it w i ll t ake us some t i me t o f ind a r epl acement f or t hi s par t .
Li ke t he wor d " somet i mes" , " somet i me" has t he st r ess on t he f i r st syl l abl e,
and i s of t en used t o mean " one day" . It r ef er s t o an unspeci f i ed per i od of
t i me i n t he f ut ur e or t he past .
* I t old Sadanand t hat I woul d meet hi m somet i me next week.
The wor d can al so be used wi t h peopl e. When you r ef er t o someone as a
" somet i me CEO" , what you mean i s t hat t he i ndi vi dual hel d t he posi t i on of a
CEO i n t he past . He i s not a CEO now .
* Di vya, t he somet i me Di r ect or of Cul t ur al Academy vi si t ed me l ast week.
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Why ar e t he hot t est days of t he year cal l ed " dog days" ?
(B. Vasant ha, Bangal or e)
The hot t est days in Eur ope most l y occur i n t he mont h of Jul y. Accor di ng t o
an old super st i t i on, t hi s was al so t he per i od when dogs had a t endency t o go
mad. The expr essi on " dog days" i s a t r ansl at i on of t he Lat i n " cani cul ar es
di es" and i t has been ar ound si nce t he t imes of t he anci ent Romans. But
cont r ar y t o popul ar beli ef , " dog days" has not hi ng t o do wi t h dogs on ear t h;
i t has mor e t o do w i t h t he dog in t he sky! In t hi s case, i t r ef er s t o Si r i us, t he
Dog St ar . Dur i ng t he hei ght of summer , t he Dog St ar , Si r i us, r i ses al ong wi t h
t he Sun. The anci ent Romans bel ieved t hat t hi s st ar added t o t he heat of t he
Sun, and i n t he pr ocess caused t he weat her t o become unbear abl y hot .
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " adhesi ve" and " cohesi ve" ?
(K. Zakki r Hussai n, Cal i cut )
An adhesi ve i s any subst ance t hat i s used t o st i ck t wo obj ect s t oget her . Gl ue,
f or exampl e, i s an adhesi ve. When you say t hat somet hi ng i s cohesi ve, what
you mean i s t hat i t consi st s of numer ous par t s whi ch f i t t oget her per f ect l y.
* Af t er sever al mont hs of t r ai ni ng, t he t eam f i nal l y became a cohesi ve uni t .
What i s t he meani ng of " gr aveyar d shi f t " ?
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(M . M unavar Basha, Chennai )
Thi s i s an expr essi on mai nl y used i n Amer i can Engl i sh. When you say t hat
you ar e wor ki ng t he gr aveyar d shi f t i n a f act or y, what you mean is t hat you
ar e wor ki ng t he l at e ni ght shi f t you usual l y wor k f r om mi dni ght t o ei ght in
t he mor ni ng.
* We have t o cancel our pl ans. I am wor ki ng t he gr aveyar d shi f t next week.
Thi s expr essi on became popul ar i n t he U.S. dur i ng Wor l d War II. It w as a
t i me when many f act or i es wor ked 24 hour s a day. The peopl e who worked
t he gr aveyar d shi f t wor ked at a t i me when ever yone el se was f ast asl eep;
when ever yt hi ng i n t own was ver y qui et and as st i l l as a gr aveyar d!
" M y doct or gave me si x mont hs t o l i ve, but when I coul dn' t pay t he bil l , he
gave me si x mont hs mor e." Wal t er M at t hau
What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of " beyond t he pal e" ?
(N. Nagar aj an, Vel l or e)
When someone behaves in an unaccept abl e or an unci vi li sed manner , you
can say t hat his behavi our was " beyond t he pale" . The i di om can al so be
used t o r ef er t o peopl e' s act i ons.
* Raj agopal ' s behavi our at t he meet i ng was beyond t he pal e.
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* Sushmi t a i s never i nvi t ed t o par t i es because her behavi our i s consi der ed
beyond t he pal e.
The wor d " pale" i n t he i di om has not hi ng t o do wit h col our . The wor d i n t hi s
case comes f r om t he Lat i n " pal us" , meani ng, " st ake" . In t he ol d days
" st akes" or wooden pol es wer e used t o mar k one' s t er r i t or y. Ever yt hi ng t hat
was wi t hi n t he " pal e" or t he wooden f ence bel onged t o you, and t he l and
t hat was out si de it , belonged t o someone el se. The expr essi on " beyond t he
pal e" began t o be used i n t he 14t h cent ur y when par t s of Ir eland came
under t he Engl i sh r ul e. Terr i t or i es t hat wer e " wi t hi n t he pal e" bel onged t o
t he Engl i sh; t hose t hat wer e out si de i t , bel onged t o t he Ir i sh. The Engl i sh, as
you may expect , di dn' t have a ver y good opi ni on of t hei r nei ghbour s. They
t hought t hat t he Ir i sh wer e cr ude; people who di dn' t know how t o behave i n
a ci vi l i sed manner . So when someone says your behavi our i s beyond t he
pal e, what he means i s t hat you ar e behavi ng li ke an Ir i shman!
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " odour " and " smel l " ?
(Vi nay Pal Si ngh, Chennai )
Tel l your si gni f i cant ot her t hat you l i ke hi s/ her " odour " and see how he/ she
r eact s! Chances ar e t he per son wi l l never speak t o you agai n. The wor d
" odour " has a negat i ve connot at i on; i t means f oul smel l . An odour can never
smel l good; i t ' s al w ays bad.
* The odour of r ot t i ng f i sh al most made me vomi t .
132
* The odour f r om his di r t y socks w as disgust i ng.
A smel l , on t he ot her hand, can be eit her good or bad. You can t al k about
t he smel l of r ot t en eggs and t he smel l of per f ume.
Is t he f ol l owi ng sent ence gr ammat i cal l y cor r ect ? " What I wi sh t o know i s
t hat whet her t he gover nment is awar e of t he pr obl em."
(C. Ramakr i shnaiah, Secunder abad)
No, i t is not . In t hi s case, you do not need " t hat " . Avoid usi ng " t hat " and
" whet her " t oget her .
* What I want t o know i s whet her you can come t o t he par t y.
* Ayesha want ed t o know whet her she had been admi t t ed t o t he
pr ogr amme.
What is t he meani ng of " bl oggi ng" ?
(R. R. Subr amani an, Chennai )
133
One of t he meani ngs of " l og" i s t o w r i t e an of f ici al account of an event . In
shi ps f or exampl e, capt ai ns keep an of f i ci al wr i t t en account of what happens
each day t hi s i s cal l ed t he capt ai n' s l og. In t he ol d days, l ogs w er e
mai nt ai ned i n l edger s; nowadays, t hey ar e saved on comput er s. " Bl oggi ng"
i s act ual l y t he shor t f or m of " w eb l oggi ng" . Li ke a diar y, a bl og may i ncl ude
anyt hi ng per sonal opi ni on, comment s and exper i ences. Unli ke a di ar y,
however , a bl og i s wr i t t en f or ot her s t o r ead and comment on. You upl oad
what ever mat er i al you have wr i t t en ont o t he web, and you keep updat i ng i t
on a r egul ar basi s. A per son who wr i t es bl ogs i s cal l ed a " bl ogger " .
" Ther e ar e wel l -dr essed f ool i sh i deas j ust as t her e ar e wel l -dr essed f ool s."
Ni chol as Chamf or t
What is t he meani ng of " di ckens" i n " Who t he di ckens ar e you?"
(A. Azeez John, Sal em)
If you ar e a gr eat f an of t he Vi ct or i an novel ist Char l es Di ckens, let me put
your mind at r est by sayi ng t hat t he " dickens" t hat you f i nd in t he expr essi on
has not hi ng t o do wi t h t he aut hor . " What t he di ckens" has been ar ound f or
over f i ve cent ur i es. In t he ol d days, peopl e r ef r ai ned f r om usi ng w or ds l i ke
" hel l " , " devi l" , and " Sat an" in t hei r speech. They f elt t hat if t hese wor ds
wer e ut t er ed, t hei r soul s woul d i mmediat el y go t o hel l ; as a r esul t , t hey
coi ned euphemisms f or t hese wor ds. " Di ckens" was one of t he wor ds t hey
came up w i t h.
134
The expr essi on " what t he di ckens" has t he same meani ng as " what t he
hel l ?" and " what t he devi l?" So when someone says, " Who t he di ckens ar e
you?" what he i s sayi ng i s, " Who t he hell / devil ar e you?" Accor di ng t o some
schol ar s " di ckens" r ef er s t o Sat an. One of t he t er ms used t o r ef er t o t he
devi l i s " Ol d Ni ck" . Si nce " di ck" rhymes wi t h " Ni ck" , t he wor d began t o be
used t o r ef er t o t he devi l. Ther e ar e a number of expr essi ons i n t he Engl i sh
l anguage wi t h t he wor d " di ckens" . Some ar e, " go t o t he di ckens" , " r ai se t he
di ckens" , " pl ay t he di ckens" and " t he dickens t ake you" .
What i s t he meani ng of " Page 3" ?
(Bi pi n Kumar Jha, Babubar hi , Bihar )
" Page 3" became f amous when Ruper t M ur doch bought over t he Sun i n
1969. The f ol lowi ng year , ever y edi t i on of t he paper car r i ed a pi ct ur e of a
t opl ess woman on page 3; and as you may expect , t he ci r cul at i on went up
dr amat i cal l y. The bar e br east ed women began t o be cal l ed " page 3 gi r l s"
and many of t hem became f amous. So t he or i gi nal page 3 cont ai ned pi ct ur es
of naked women. Nowadays, t he meaning of t he expr essi on has changed
somew hat . In addi t i on t o i ncl udi ng some pi ct ur es of quest i onabl e t ast e, t he
page al so i nf or ms t he r eader as t o what i s happeni ng on t he soci al scene
i t t el l s you w ho i s goi ng out w i t h w hom and w ho i s t hr ow i ng t he next big
par t y. It pr ovides t he l ocal gossi p.
Whi ch i s cor r ect ? " Gr andson of t he l at e" or " gr andson of l at e" ?
(S. Vi shnu, Chennai )
135
We usual l y f i nd t hi s i n weddi ng i nvi t at i ons. Kar t hi ck, gr andson of t he l at e
Jayar aman, et c. When you want t o r ef er t o someone who i s no mor e, you
gener al l y use " t he" bef or e " l at e" .
* Padma, t he daught er of t he l at e Ganesh, i s bui l di ng a house.
* The l at e Pr esi dent was know n f or his sense of humour .
" A man who has never made a woman angr y is a f ai l ur e i n l i f e."
Chr i st opher M or l ey
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " met " and " vi si t ed" ?
(R. Raghuveer , Chennai )
A meet i ng can be pl anned or unpl anned. You can r i ng someone up and ask
hi m t o meet you somewher e at a par t i cul ar t i me. It i s al so possi bl e f or you
t o meet someone qui t e acci dent al l y. For exampl e, you deci de t o go
shoppi ng. Your f r i end al so deci des t o go shoppi ng and you end up meet i ng
hi m. In t hi s case, t he meet i ng is not planned; t he t wo of you r un i nt o each
ot her qui t e acci dent al l y.
* We met i n t he l i br ar y as pl anned.
* The l ast t ime t he t wo of us met was i n London.
136
The wor d " vi si t " suggest s a l onger meet i ng. In ot her wor ds, you ar e goi ng t o
spend some t i me wi t h t he i ndi vi dual . You visi t someone' s house. A vi si t i s
usual l y pl anned; t he peopl e you ar e goi ng t o meet usual l y know t hat you ar e
comi ng.
* Dur i ng t he hol i days, he vi si t ed hi s cousi n i n Pune. Ther e, he met many of
hi s old f r i ends.
What i s t he meani ng of " t ongue-i n-cheek" ?
(Shar ada Rao, Chennai )
When you make a t ongue-i n-cheek r emar k, you do not expect your l i st ener
t o t ake you ser i ously. Al t hough you may l ook ser i ous, t he i nt ent i on i s t o be
humor ous. What you say i s meant as a j oke.
* Was Vi j ay speaki ng wi t h t ongue-i n-cheek when he r ef er r ed t o Sania as t he
hear t t hr ob of Indi a?
Does t he w or d " r egi f t " exi st ?
(Pur ushot ham, Bangal or e)
Yes, i t does. When you get mar r i ed you usual l y get a l ot of gi f t s. Somet i mes
t wo or t hr ee people end up gi vi ng you t he same t hi ng. For exampl e, you
may end up get t i ng t hr ee or f our cl ocks. What ar e you goi ng t o do wi t h so
137
many cl ocks? If you ar e sensi bl e, t hen what you woul d do i s t o wai t f or one
of your f r i ends t o get mar r i ed. When he/ she does, you gi ve one of t he ext r a
cl ocks as a gi f t . This i s w hat w e mean by " r egi f t i ng" .
* Geet ha is pl anni ng t o r egi f t t he ugl y vase t hat she got f r om Bal a.
What i s t he meani ng of " ar mchai r cr i t i c" ?
(N. V R. Sw amy, Chennai )
Ther e ar e pl ent y of peopl e i n our count r y who have never pl ayed cr i cket i n
t hei r l i f e, but w ho ar e capabl e of gi vi ng a l engt hy l ect ur e on t he subj ect .
They can t el l you why Sachi n shoul d st ar t usi ng a l ight er bat , and what was
wr ong wi t h Gangul y' s f iel d pl acement dur i ng a par t i cul ar mat ch. They seem
t o be ver y knowl edgeabl e about t he subj ect of cr i cket ; but what t hey know
i s based on one of t wo t hi ngs t hey have ei t her gat her ed t he i nf or mat i on
f r om books or by l i st eni ng t o peopl e who know about t he subj ect . In ot her
wor ds, ar mchai r cr i t i cs ar e peopl e who have l i t t l e or no pr act i cal exper i ence.
They have become knowl edgeabl e by si t t i ng i n t hei r f avour i t e ar mchai r and
r eadi ng.
* If you want wor ds of wi sdom f r om an ar mchai r cr i t i c, you can go t o
Laxman.
* I want someone who has deal t wi t h t his pr obl em, not some ar mchai r cr i t i c.
138
Peopl e who l ear n a lot about pl aces by r eadi ng about t hem ar e cal l ed
" ar mchai r t r avel ler s" .
" A f i ne i s a t ax f or doi ng somet hi ng w r ong. A t ax is a f ine f or doi ng
somet hi ng r ight ." Unknown
Is i t OK t o say, " M y cousi n di vor ced l ast mont h" ?
(E. Dhar ani , Chennai )
The sent ence i s gr ammat i cal l y i ncor r ect . You usual l y di vor ce someone; t he
wor d " di vor ced" i s usual l y f ol l owed by a noun or a pr onoun.
* Af t er t went y year s of mar r i age, Rama deci ded t o di vor ce Govi nd.
* M y cousi n di vor ced hi s wi f e l ast mont h.
It i s al so possi bl e t o say, " t o get a di vor ce" . For exampl e,
* They ar e pl anni ng t o get a di vor ce soon.
* M y cousi n got di vor ced last mont h.
139
What is t he meani ng of " er udi t e" ?
(V. Raj agopal an, Vr i ddhachal am)
Fi r st , l et ' s deal w i t h t he pr onunci at i on. The " e" i s l ike t he " e" i n " set " , " pet " ,
and " met " , and t he f ol l owi ng " u" sounds l ike t he " u" i n " put " , " pul l " and
" f ul l " . The f inal syl l abl e r hymes w i t h " might " , " ki t e" , and " f i ght " , and t he
mai n st r ess i s on t he f i r st syl l abl e.
When you say t hat someone i s " er udi t e" what you mean i s t hat he/ she i s
w el l l ear ned; he or she sounds schol ar l y. The w or d i s i nvar i abl y used i n
f or mal cont ext s.
* Sekhar i s very di f f er ent f r om my ot her cousi ns. He i s ver y erudi t e and well
i nf or med.
* The old pr of essor s wer e st unned when t he young man gave an er udi t e
l ect ur e.
Why ar e peopl e who ar e l ef t -handed cal led " sout hpaws" ?
(N. Sadi q Basha, Ti r uppur )
Accor di ng t o many spor t s ent husi ast s, t he wor d " sout hpaw" began t o be
used t o r ef er t o l ef t hander s i n t he l at e 19t h Cent ur y. Some bel i eve t hat t he
spor t s col umni st Fi nl ey Pet er Dunne coi ned t he wor d. " Sout hpaw" comes t o
us f r om t he wor l d of basebal l .
140
Thi s popul ar Amer i can game i s usual l y pl ayed i n t he summer ; pr of essi onal
games ar e pl ayed ei t her i n t he af t er noons or i n t he evenings. In most
st adi ums, t he " home pl at e" or t he bat t er ' s box is pl aced i n such a manner
t hat i t f aces east . Thi s i s done t o ensur e t hat t he bat t er doesn' t have t he
af t er noon or eveni ng sun i n hi s eyes when he bat s.
The pi t cher t hr ows t he ball f aci ng west . Thi s bei ng t he case, when a lef t -
handed pit cher w i nds up f or his del iver y, hi s t hr ow i ng ar m i s f aci ng sout h.
Hence t he t er m " sout hpaw" . The " paw" r ef er s t o t he hand of t he pit cher .
Gr ammar i an' s def i ni t i on of " ki ss" : noun, t hough of t en used as a conj unct i on.
It i s never decl i ned; i t i s mor e common t han pr oper ; and it is used i n t he
pl ur al and agr ees w i t h al l gender s.
What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of " Bar ki s i s wi ll i ng" ?
(L. Sundar ai ya, Ar akkonam)
The expr essi on f i r st appear ed i n Char l es Di ckens' wel l -known cl assi c " Davi d
Copper f i el d" . Bar ki s i s t he name of one t he char act er s i n t he novel . He keeps
sendi ng a message t hr ough Davi d t o Cl ar a Peggot t y, t he mai d of Davi d' s
mot her . The message t hat Davi d is t o gi ve Cl ar a i s " Bar ki s i s w i l l ing" . In ot her
wor ds, Bar kis i s wi l l ing t o mar r y Cl ar a. The expr essi on i s used nowadays t o
i ndi cat e one' s w i ll i ngness or r eadi ness t o do somet hi ng.
What does " bel l s and w hi st l es" mean?
141
(Pr i yat har si ni , Kal l akur i chi )
M any peopl e when t hey go shoppi ng f or a comput er l ook f or a model t hat
cont ai ns t he essent i al f eat ur es. Ther e are ot her s, how ever , w ho ar e
i nt er est ed in t he l i t t l e ext r as. They want t o have a model whi ch cont ai ns
many f ancy f eat ur es; add-ons whi ch ar e good t o l ook at , but whi ch ser ve
ver y l i t t l e pur pose. These r at her at t r act ive but i nessent i al f eat ur es t hat you
buy al ong w i t h a gadget ar e cal l ed " bel l s and w hi st l es" .
* You don' t need t he bell s and w hi st l es. They w i l l doubl e t he cost .
* Ramesh l i kes t o buy gadget s w i t h al l t he bel l s and w hi st l es.
What is t he meani ng of " keypal " ?
(G. Anant h, Secunder abad)
Thi s i s a word of r ecent or igi n. A pen pal i s someone wi t h whom you
exchange l et t er s. A " keypal " i s someone wi t h whom you exchange emai l s.
He/ she i s your emai l pen pal . You " key" i n t he messages f or t his i ndi vi dual .
* I i nf or med al l my keypal s about t he upcomi ng event .
" Laught er is li ke changi ng a baby' s di aper . It doesn' t per manent ly sol ve any
pr obl ems, but i t makes t hi ngs mor e accept abl e f or a whi l e." Unknown
142
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " sent i ment al " and " emot i onal " ?
(Hema Yadav, Aj mer )
Bot h wor ds have mor e t o do wi t h " f eel i ngs" t han " r eason" . In bot h cases,
t he i ndi vidual ' s hear t r ul es hi s head. When you r espond t o a si t uat i on
" emot i onal ly" , you do what your f eel i ngs t el l you t o do. You don' t r eal ly
t hi nk t hi ngs t hr ough. In most cases, i t is a knee-j er k r eact i on. When
someone advises you and you r eact emot i onal l y, you can ei t her shout at t he
i ndi vidual or you can begi n t o cr y.
* The chai r man became emot i onal and accused t he account ant of f r aud.
A sent i ment al per son i s easi l y af f ect ed by emot i ons l i ke sadness, l ove, et c.
Unl i ke an emot i onal i ndi vi dual , a sent i ment al one does not expr ess hi msel f
l oudl y or st r ongl y. The f eel ings t hat he expr esses ar e much mor e t ender and
somewhat exagger at ed. Sent i ment al of t en car r i es wi t h i t t he sense t hat t he
f eel ings expr essed ar e not genui ne. Unl ike " emot i onal " , " sent i ment al " has a
negat i ve connot at i on.
* Lat ha i s ver y sent i ment al . She cr i ed when she hear d t hat t he school dog
w as mi ssi ng.
What i s t he or i gi n of , " M ur der someone i n col d bl ood" ?
143
(Asl am Khan, Anant apur )
When you do somet hi ng i n " col d bl ood" you do i t wi t hout being emot ional l y
i nvol ved; in ot her wor ds, you ar e det ached. The mur der is t hought of i n
advance and t he pl ans ar e execut ed in a r ut hl ess manner , wi t hout t he
di spl ay of any emot i on. You act l ike a col d-bl ooded ani mal .
* The chi l d w as ki l l ed i n col d bl ood i n f r ont of hi s house.
Does t he t emper at ur e of t he bl ood i n our body incr ease and decr ease
dependi ng on our mood? Not r eal l y, but peopl e who li ved some t hr ee
hundr ed year s ago bel ieved t hat our f r ame of mi nd det er mi ned t he
t emper at ur e of t he bl ood. The common bel i ef was t hat when an i ndi vi dual
became exci t ed or angr y, t he bl ood wi t hi n t he body began t o boi l . When he
r emai ned cal m, t he bl ood became cool . These bel i ef s ar e r ef l ect ed in
ever yday expr essi ons li ke " hot -bl ooded" and " i n col d bl ood" . I under st and i n
t he 17t h Cent ur y, t he expr essi on " i n hot bl ood" w as used t o r ef er t o
mur der s commi t t ed wi t h passi on. For some st r ange r eason " i n hot bl ood"
w ent out of use. Schol ar s bel i eve t hat t he expr essi on " i n col d bl ood" i s a
t r ansl at i on of t he Fr ench " sang-f r oi d" . The expr essi on " i n col d bl ood" f i r st
appear ed i n pr i nt i n 1711 i n Joseph Addison' s " The Spect at or " .
What is t he meani ng of " Ar gus eyed" ?
(K. Vai t hi nat hasamy, Kumbakonam)
144
It means t o be w at chf ul or vi gi l ant .
* The pol i ce wer e wat chi ng t he pr oceedings, Ar gus-eyed.
* The st udent s f ound i t di f f i cul t t o get past t he Ar gus-eyed wat chman.
Ar gus was a gi ant who had f if t y pair s of eyes. Juno, wi f e of Zeus, asked hi m
t o keep an eye on her hei f er (young cow) Io. The vigi l ant Ar gus st ood guar d,
and w hen he f el t dr ow sy, he al l ow ed onl y t w o of hi s eyes t o f al l asl eep. The
r emai ni ng f or t y-ni ne pai r s of eyes wer e f ocussed on Io. Unf or t unat el y f or
t he gi ant , t he messenger of t he gods, M er cur y, became int er est ed i n t he
hei f er and deci ded t o st eal it . In or der t o achi eve t hi s, he began pl ayi ng his
l yr e. The musi c was so soot hi ng t hat Ar gus f el l asl eep - al l one hundr ed eyes
cl osed. M er cur y dr ew his swor d and pr ompt l y chopped of f t he gi ant ' s head.
When Juno saw what had happened, she r emoved t he eyes f r om t he head
of t he gi ant and placed t hem al l on t he t ai l of a peacock. I guess t hi s expl ains
why we t alk about t he eye of a peacock' s f eat her .
Whi ch i s cor r ect ? " I gave t o nanny t he keys" or " I gave t he keys t o nanny" ?
(Y. M ohi t h Sai , Chi t t oor Di st .)
The second sent ence is cor r ect . One usual l y gi ves somet hi ng t o someone.
* The new st udent gave a r ose t o John.
145
It i s al so possi bl e t o gi ve someone somet hi ng. In t hi s case, " t o" i s not used.
You do not " gi ve t o someone" .
* Pl ease gi ve t he ar chi t ect t hese di agr ams.
What i s t he meani ng of " co-son-i n-l aw" ?
(L. Jayar am, Bangal or e)
Thi s i s a wor d t hat most nat i ve speaker s of Engl i sh do not under st and. " Co-
son-i n-l aw" i s a t er m t hat we Indi ans have cont r i but ed t o t he Engl i sh
l anguage. It i s not f ound i n many di ct i onar i es. When you r ef er t o a man as a
" co-son-i n-l aw" what you mean i s t hat t he t wo of you have t he same i n-
l aws. In ot her wor ds, t hi s ot her indi vi dual i s mar r i ed t o your wi f e' s si st er .
Nat i ve speaker s of Engl i sh woul d r ef er t o t he ot her i ndi vi dual as a " br ot her
i n l aw" . M ost Indi an l anguages have a t er m f or such a r el at i onshi p, and I
guess t hat ' s t he r eason why we f el t compell ed t o come up wit h " co-son-i n-
l aw" .
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " as schedul ed" and " on schedul e" ?
(I. Sast r i , Chennai )
146
When you say t hat t he meet i ng t ook pl ace " as schedul ed" , what you mean is
t hat t he meet i ng t ook pl ace as pl anned. Ar r angement s had been made, i n
advance, f or t he meet i ng t o be hel d and t hi ngs went accor di ng t o pl an.
* The Opposi t i on cal l ed f or a bandh, but we managed t o meet t he mi ni st er
as schedul ed.
The expr essi on " on schedul e" i s nor mal ly used t o r ef er t o t ime. When a
pr oj ect i s compl et ed on schedul e, it i s compl et ed on t i me.
* For a change al l f l i ght s l ef t on schedul e.
What is t he meani ng and or i gi n of " t o l eave no st one unt ur ned" ?
(D. Sr i ni vasan, Kal l i dai kur i chi )
When someone says t hat he wi l l l eave no st one unt ur ned what he means i s
t hat he wi l l do ever yt hi ng he can i n or der t o achi eve somet hi ng. In ot her
w or ds, he w i l l t r y ever y possi bl e means t o get t he desi r ed r esul t s.
* The Chi ef M i ni st er has sai d t hat he woul d l eave no st one unt ur ned t o f i nd
t he cul pr i t .
147
* Bot h count r i es cl ai med t hat t hey woul d leave no st one unt ur ned t o f i nd
peace.
In 477 B. C, Gener al Polycr at es def eat ed Gener al M ar doni us i n a bat t l e.
Accor di ng t o r umour s, t he Per si an gener al , M ar doni us had a l ot of t r easur e
hi dden under hi s t ent . But when Pol ycr at es and hi s men sear ched t he t ent ,
t hey f ound not hi ng. The di sappoi nt ed Gener al went t o an or acl e i n Del phi
and t old hi m hi s pr obl em. The or acl e i nst r uct ed hi m t o r et ur n t o t he pl ace
wher e t he bat t l e had been f ought and t o l ook under ever y st one f or t he
t r easur e; he asked hi m t o leave no st one unt ur ned. Pol ycr at es went back
and sear ched under t he st ones, and sur e enough he f ound t he t r easur e.
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " l i f e assur ance" and " l i f e i nsur ance" ?
(R. M . Lakshmi , M adur ai )
Ther e is no di f f er ence; some compani es cal l t hemsel ves " l i f e i nsur ance"
compani es, whi l e ot her s cal l t hemsel ves " l i f e assur ance" compani es. They
bot h do t he same j ob. I under st and t hat t he t er m " Assur ance Company" i s
most l y used i n count r i es wher e Engl i sh is not spoken as t he f i r st l anguage
f or exampl e, i n count r i es li ke Ger many, Egypt , and t he Phi l i ppi nes.
Ther e is, however , a di f f er ence i n meaning bet ween " assur ance" and
" i nsur ance" . One nor mall y " assur es" agai nst somet hi ng t hat wi l l def i ni t el y
happen f or exampl e deat h. No mat t er how i mpor t ant we ar e, none of us
can escape deat h. It i s i nevit abl e. You usual l y " i nsur e" your sel f agai nst
somet hi ng t hat may or may not happen f or exampl e, f i r e, bur gl ar y and
148
f l ood. Not al l of us w i l l have our house dest r oyed i n a f i r e acci dent . But
some of us do buy " f i r e i nsur ance" and " f l ood i nsur ance" .
What is t he meani ng of " monobr ow" ?
(S. Shant hi , Vel l or e)
The next t i me you l ook at your sel f in t he mi r r or , t ake a good l ook at t he
eyebr ows. If t he t wo j oi n j ust above your nose, t hen you can say t hat you
have a " monobr ow" . The wor d i s most l y used i n i nf or mal cont ext s, and is
not f ound i n many dict i onar i es.
" Age i s a quest i on of mi nd over mat t er . If you don' t mi nd, i t doesn' t mat t er ."
Sat chel Pai ge
What i s t he meani ng of " under wr i t er " ?
M . Rat nasabapat hi , M adur ai )
Thi s i s a t er m f r equent l y used by organi sat i ons t hat pr ovi de i nsur ance.
When an or gani sat i on " under w r i t es" an act i vi t y, i t si gns a cont r act w hi ch
guar ant ees payment f or any l oss or damage t o t he goods. A company t hat
149
i nvest s money t o hel p an indi vi dual st ar t a new pr oj ect i s cal l ed an
under wr i t er . An i ndi vidual can be an under wr i t er as wel l ; hi s pr i mary j ob i s
t o st udy t he r i sks i nvolved i n an act i vit y and deci de how much t o char ge as
i nsur ance. He det er mi nes t he cr edi t wor t hi ness of a cl i ent . He i s cal l ed an
under wr i t er because he wr i t es his name under t he pol i cy.
What i s t he meani ng and or i gi n of " w r i t i ng i s on t he w al l " ?
(P. Habeeb Rahman, M adur ai )
When Shahi d Af r i di bl azed away t o a cent ur y i n 40-odd bal l s in t he f i f t h one-
day i nt er nat i onal , most of us knew who was goi ng t o wi n t he mat ch. By t he
end of t he 10t h over , t he wr i t i ng was on t he wal l f or Indi a. When you say
t hat t he handw r i t i ng or w r i t i ng i s on t he w al l , w hat you mean i s t hat
somet hi ng disast r ous or bad i s goi ng t o happen.
* When t he t eam l ost i n t he f ir st r ound of t he pl ayof f s, t he wr i t i ng was on
t he w al l f or t he coach.
* Pr abhakar saw t he handwr i t i ng on t he wal l when t he company f ir ed t wo
mor e peopl e.
The expr essi on " handwr i t i ng on t he wall " comes f r om t he Bi bl e. The Ki ng of
Babyl on, Bel shazzar , sees a hand myst er i ousl y appear and wr i t e a message
on a wal l . Bei ng unabl e t o deci pher t he message, he summons Dani el . The
wi se man t el l s Bel shazzar t hat t he message i s a war ni ng f r om God t hat he
wi l l soon be over t hr own and hi s ki ngdom dest r oyed.
150
" A di pl omat i s a man who r emember s a woman' s bi r t hday, but never
r emember s her age."
What i s t he di f f er ence bet w een " f i ght wi t h" and " f i ght agai nst " ?
(S. Ar umugam, Coi mbat or e)
In some cont ext s, bot h phr asal ver bs have mor e or less t he same meani ng.
When you " f i ght agai nst " or " f i ght wi t h" someone, you do bat t l e agai nst t he
i ndi vi dual .
* I r ef use t o f i ght agai nst someone who is t went y year s younger t han me.
In t he exampl es gi ven, one coul d easi l y r epl ace one phr asal ver b wi t h t he
ot her . It i s also possi bl e t o " f i ght agai nst " somet hi ng as wel l. For exampl e,
one can f i ght agai nst a di sease, or one can f i ght agai nst pover t y. In t hese
t w o cases, you ar e doi ng bat t l e agai nst a di sease and pover t y. " Fi ght w i t h"
has an addi t i onal meani ng. When you f ight wi t h somet hi ng, you use a
weapon as an i nst r ument in your f ight . For exampl e, i n t he old days peopl e
f ought wi t h spear s and swor ds.
Nowadays peopl e f i ght wi t h guns. Also, when you " f i ght wi t h" someone, i t
coul d mean t hat you ar e j oi ni ng hands wi t h t he i ndi vi dual t o f i ght someone
or somet hi ng. In ot her wor ds, you and t he ot her i ndi vi dual ar e j oi ni ng f or ces
and f i ght i ng a common enemy. " Fi ght agai nst " does not have t hi s meani ng.
151
* I f ought wi t h hi m i n Kashmi r agai nst t he t er r or i st s.
What i s t he meani ng and or igi n of " w at er of f a duck' s back" ?
(K. Nar ayanmur t hy, Udamal pet )
Al t hough t he duck spends a l ot of t i me i n wat er , t he wat er never st ays on i t s
f eat her s f or l ong. Thi s i s because i t s f eat her s ar e coat ed wi t h oil and t hi s
pr event s t he wat er f r om bei ng absor bed. As a r esul t , when t he bi r d st eps
out of t he w at er , it is abl e t o shake i t of f w it hi n a mat t er of a f ew seconds.
Spendi ng a consi der abl e amount of t i me i n a pond or a l ake seems t o have
no ef f ect on t he bi r d. Si mil ar l y, w hen you cr i t i ci se someone and it has no
ef f ect on hi m/ her , t hen you can say t hat t he cr i t i ci sm was l i ke wat er of f a
duck' s back. Her e ar e a f ew exampl es.
* I have scol ded Achal a sever al t i mes f or being l azy and sl oppy, but it ' s j ust
w at er of f a duck' s back t o her .
Is i t OK t o say, " He t el ephoned t o M r . X" ?
(K. R. Chi dambar am, Chennai )
When t he w or d " t el ephone" is used as a ver b, i t i s not f ol l ow ed by " t o" . You
t el ephone someone and not " t el ephone t o" someone. It i s li ke t he wor d
" cal l " . Remember , when you r i ng someone up, you " cal l him" , you do not
" cal l t o hi m" . Her e ar e a f ew exampl es.
152
* Ananya t elephoned her f r i end and t old her she woul dn' t be comi ng.
What is t he meani ng of " bl onde moment " ?
(R. Anur adha, Secunder abad)
Thi s i s an expr essi on of r ecent or i gi n. In t he Uni t ed St at es, f or sever al
decades now, t he wor d blonde has become synonymous wi t h st upi di t y.
Women wi t h bl onde hai r have al ways been per cei ved as being beaut i f ul but
wi t hout an i ot a of i nt el l igence beaut y wi t hout br ai ns. A very common
expr essi on associ at ed wi t h t hem i s " dumb bl onde" . When you say t hat you
had a " bl onde moment " what you ar e impl yi ng i s t hat you behaved l i ke a
t ypi cal bl onde you became scat t er br ai ned and di d somet hi ng si l l y.
* I don' t know why I sai d what I di d. I must have had a bl ond moment .
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " awar d" and " r ewar d" ?
(Dr . M . Veer amohan Rao, Kur nool )
An " awar d" i s a pr i ze t hat you r ecei ve f or havi ng done somet hi ng
not ewor t hy. It i s al ways associ at ed wi t h somet hi ng posi t i ve; you have done
somet hi ng whi ch peopl e appr ove of . It is a si gn of appr eci at i on. You coul d
be aw ar ded a medal , a pr i ze, or a cer t i f i cat e by an or ganisat i on f or an
out st andi ng achi evement . When j udges best ow an awar d on you, t hey ar e
honour i ng you.
* The onl y awar d t hat Neel am ever won was t he Pul i t zer Pr i ze.
153
A " r ew ar d" , on t he ot her hand, i s usual l y associ at ed w it h somet hi ng
val uabl e money, f or i nst ance. You may get a r ewar d f or f i ndi ng and
r et ur ni ng someone' s dog/ cat . The pol i ce may of f er a r ewar d f or i nf or mat i on
about an escaped convi ct . It i s seen as somet hi ng t hat you get as j ust
compensat i on f or t he good t hat you have done or t he har d wor k t hat you
have put i n. For example, if you have wor ked r eal l y hard t o wr i t e a novel ,
and l at er you r ecei ve an awar d f or it , you may f eel t hat i t i s a r ecompense
f or all t he w or k you put i n, t hat i t i s a r ew ar d f or your ef f or t . Whi le t he w or d
" awar d" i s associ at ed wi t h onl y posi t i ve t hi ngs, " r ewar d" , on t he ot her hand,
can be associ at ed wi t h bot h good and bad. One can be r ewar ded f or t he evi l
one does as w ell .
What is t he meani ng of " f al l on st ony gr ound" ?
(C. Ganeshan, Tr i chy)
When someone gi ves you a pi ece of advi ce and you choose t o ignor e i t , t hen
you can say t hat t he advi ce f el l on st ony gr ound. In ot her wor ds, t he gr ound
i s so har d t hat not hi ng penet rat es i t . The expr essi on, I under st and, comes
f r om t he Bi bl e and i t has mor e or less t he same meani ng as " f al l on deaf
ear s" .
* The M anagement ' s r epeat ed r equest s t o cal l of f t he st r i ke have f al l en on
st ony gr ound.
Is i t okay t o say, " The t eacher was angr y on t he st udent s" ?
154
(G. Sar i t a, Chennai )
Ther e i s a t endency among Indi ans t o use t he wor d " on" wi t h " angr y" , but i t
i s wr ong t o do so. You cannot be " angr y on" or " pl eased on" a per son. Bot h
t hese wor ds ar e usual l y f ol l owed by " wit h" .
* The new pr i nci pal was pleased wi t h t he chi l dr en' s per f or mance.
What i s t he meani ng of " on a wi ng and a pr ayer " ?
(Ananya, Secunder abad)
If you say t hat you ar e wr i t i ng an ent r ance exam " on a wi ng and a pr ayer " ,
what you mean is t hat you ar e not conf i dent t hat you wi l l pass. You ar e
hopef ul , but chances ar e you ar e unl i kel y t o succeed. You ar e r elyi ng mor e
on l uck, r at her t han your abi l i t y.
* Anj u was playi ng t he game on a wi ng and a pr ayer . She had no i dea what
she shoul d do t o w i n.
* Raj u is t aki ng t he i nt er vi ew on a w i ng and a pr ayer .
The expr essi on became popular dur i ng Wor l d War I. The st or y goes t hat a
pi l ot managed t o l and hi s pl ane successf ul l y even t hough one of hi s wi ngs
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had been badl y damaged. When hi s f r i ends asked hi m how he had managed
t o l and hi s cr i ppl ed pl ane, t he pi l ot r epl i ed t hat it w as hi s pr ayer s t hat kept
t he ai r cr af t al of t . To whi ch one of hi s f ell ow pi l ot s qui pped, " A w i ng and a
pr ayer br ought you back! "
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " acqui t t al " and " exoner at i on" ?
(Soj i M at hew , M anal i )
Ver y of t en an innocent man i s accused of a cr i me and dr agged t o cour t .
Af t er t he j udge has hear d bot h si des of t he case, he usual l y f i nds hi m not
gui l t y; t he j udge acqui t s t he man of t he cr i me. Thi s f or mal decl ar at i on made
by t he j udge i n a cour t of l aw is cal l ed an acqui t t al . The " a" i n t he f i r st and
f i nal syl l abl e i s pr onounced li ke t he " a" i n " chi na" . The second syl l abl e,
whi ch has t he mai n st r ess, i s pr onounced l i ke t he wor d " qui t " . * The t r i al
r esul t ed in an acqui t t al f or t he t hr ee men char ged wi t h f i r st -degr ee mur der .
The wor d " exoner at i on" has mor e or l ess t he same meani ng as " acqui t t al " .
When a j udge exoner at es someone of somet hi ng, he i s pr onounci ng t he
per son not gui l t y. He doesn' t f i nd any evidence t hat t he accused has done
anyt hi ng wr ong. Unl ike t he wor d " acquit t al " , someone ot her t han a j udge
can exoner at e a per son. For exampl e, i n gover nment of f i ces whenever
somet hi ng goes wr ong, a commi t t ee i s f or med t o det er mi ne t he causes. The
chai r per son i s al so asked t o f i nd out if any par t icul ar i ndi vi dual i s t o be
bl amed f or t he f ai l ur e. If t he commi t t ee f i nds t hat no one i s t o be bl ame,
t hen ever yone i s exoner at ed. The of f ici al r epor t t hat t he per son i n aut hor i t y
wr i t es exoner at es everyone.
156
* The l ong awai t ed r epor t exoner at ed t he t eacher s.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " beaut i f ul " and " pr et t y" ?
(R. S. Pr akash, Ti r uchy)
Bot h wor ds ar e nor mal l y used t o r ef er t o t he pl easi ng appear ance of t he
f ace usual l y t hat of women. Beaut i f ul i s t he st r onger wor d of t he t wo.
When you say t hat somet hi ng i s " beaut if ul " what you mean i s t hat i t i s ver y
cl ose t o per f ect i on at l east accor di ng t o t he per son l ooki ng at t he obj ect .
Remember , beaut y l i es i n t he eye of t he behol der . Beaut y i s subj ect i ve, what
i s consi der ed beaut i f ul i n one cul t ur e may not be consi der ed beaut i f ul i n
anot her . One can use t he w or d " beaut i f ul " t o t al k about t hi ngs t hat can be
seen. For exampl e, you can r ef er a woman' s f ace as bei ng beaut i f ul , a house
as bei ng beaut i f ul , and a scene as bei ng beaut i f ul . In f act , you can even use
t he wor d wi t h t hi ngs t hat cannot be seen. For example, you can t alk about a
" beaut i f ul pl an" or a " beaut i f ul smel l " . The wor d " pr et t y" , on t he ot her
hand, i s not as compl i ment ary as beaut i f ul . When you r ef er t o a woman as
bei ng " pr et t y" what you mean i s t hat she i s at t r act i ve; she i s gr acef ul and
f ul l of l i f e, but lacks t he per f ect i on. She doesn' t have t he qual i t i es t o make
her beaut i f ul . Pr et t y i s sel dom used w i t h peopl e or obj ect s t hat ar e bi g; t he
w or d i s usual ly r est r i ct ed t o obj ect s t hat ar e smal l . You cannot r ef er a 30-
st or ey bui l di ng as bei ng a " pr et t y bui l di ng" . You can t alk about a " pr et t y
house" or " pr et t y shoes" , but not a pr et t y bui l di ng. Si mil ar l y, a w oman w ho
i s bi g bui l t can be " beaut i f ul " , but not " pr et t y" . The wor d " pr et t y" suggest s
t hat t he per son or obj ect i s pleasant t o l ook at , but not necessar i l y
i mpr essi ve.
157
What i s t he meani ng of " set t he cat among t he pi geons" ?
(H. Par vat hi , Chennai )
What woul d happen i f you wer e t o set a cat l oose among t he pi geons? How
do you t hi nk t he bi r ds woul d r eact ? They woul d be pr et t y wor r i ed, woul dn' t
t hey? The pr esence of t he cat woul d cr eat e a gr eat deal of di st ur bance.
When you set a cat among t he pigeons, you say or do somet hi ng suddenly
or unexpect edl y. Thi s of t en l eaves t he peopl e w or r i ed or angr y. It is also
possi bl e t o say, " put t he cat among t he pi geons."
* The pr i nci pal set t he cat among t he pi geons when he i nf or med t he
st udent s t hat t he annual day was l ikel y t o be cancel l ed.
What is t he meani ng of " desk j ockey" ?
(V. Uday, M adur ai )
Anyone whose j ob i nvol ves si t t i ng behi nd a desk most of t he t i me can be
cal l ed a " desk j ockey." The i ndi vi dual r emai ns gl ued t o hi s desk most of t he
t i me. Bank of f icer s, account ant s and most gover nment of f i ci al s can be cal led
" desk j ockeys." These people ar e ei t her const ant l y shuf f l i ng paper s or on t he
phone most of t he t ime. If you ar e a " desk j ockey" , maybe you shoul d
consi der cal l i ng your sel f a " D.J" . Who knows, peopl e may st ar t l ooki ng at
you di f f er ent l y!
158
What i s t he meani ng and or i gi n of " cut and dr y" ?
(C. Raj eshw ar, Bangal or e)
Fi r st of al l, i t i s not " cut and dr y" , but " cut and dr i ed" . When you r ef er t o a
deci si on as bei ng cut and dr i ed what you mean i s t hat it is f i nal ; i t cannot be
changed.
* Bal a' s pl ans ar e cut and dr i ed. You cannot make any changes now.
When you r ef er t o a t al k as bei ng " cut and dr i ed" what you mean i s t hat it
w as uni nt er est i ng.
* Hema' s t alk was cut and dr i ed. She must br ush up on her pr esent at i on
ski ll s.
Accor di ng t o some schol ar s t he cut and dr i ed mat er i al r ef er s t o t i mber .
Wood t hat has been dr i ed af t er cut t i ng i s r eady f or use. One can use i t t o
l i ght a f i r e. Some ot her s bel i eve t hat t he i di om r ef er s t o t he cut and dr i ed
her bs avai l able i n shops, whi ch can be r eadi l y used in one' s cooki ng.
Dur i ng f uner al s, peopl e, especi al l y women, cr y or wai l i n a f unny sor t of way.
Is t her e a w or d f or t hi s?
(D. Kumar , Hyder abad)
159
Yes, t her e is. I t hi nk t he w or d you have i n mi nd i s " ul ul at e" . It consist s of
t hr ee syl l abl es; t he f i r st i s pr onounced l i ke t he wor d " Yul e" , whi ch r hymes
wi t h " mul e" , " f uel " , and " duel " . The second syl l abl e sounds l ike " you" , and
t he f i nal syl l abl e i s l ike t he w or d " l at e" . The mai n st r ess i s on t he f i r st
syl l abl e. " Ul ul at e" i s most l y used i n f or mal cont ext s and means t o how l or
w ai l . Thi s r i t ual i st i c w ai li ng can be per f or med at t i mes of mour ni ng or
cel ebr at i on.
* Fr om a di st ance we coul d hear t he ul ulat i on of t he mour ni ng women.
* When he hear d t he news, Anand r ai sed hi s hands and ulul at ed.
What i s t he meani ng of " t he wor m has t ur ned" ?
(L. Hamsa, Kozhi kode)
If you keep bul l yi ng someone al l t he t ime, at some poi nt he wi l l t ur n on you.
Even t he most mil d-manner ed per son wi l l put up wi t h onl y so much.
Nor mal l y, when you r ef er t o an i ndi vi dual as a " wor m" , what you mean is
t hat he i s an unpl easant char act er . But in t hi s i di om, i t i s gent l eness or t he
har ml essness of t he cr eat ur e t hat you ar e r ef er r i ng t o. You ar e sayi ng t hat
t he per son i s a weak i ndi vi dual .
160
* I woul dn' t mess wi t h Raj eev now i f I wer e you. He has changed. The wor m
has t ur ned.
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " anot her " and " ot her " ?
(M ohd. Asl am, M i r , Kashmi r )
" Anot her " i s nor mal l y used t o mean " one mor e" . For exampl e, you can ask
your mot her f or anot her bowl of i ce cr eam, or anot her pl at e of pur i s. The
wor d can be used wi t h bot h si ngul ar and pl ur al nouns; when used wi t h t he
l at t er , it i s f oll owed by " f ew" . The Regi st r ar wi ll be r et i r i ng i n anot her f ew
days. The use of t he wor d " anot her " also suggest s t hat you have mor e t han
t wo choi ces avai l able. If you ar e in a showr oom and you ask a sal esper son t o
show you " anot her car " , you ar e t el l ing t he indi vi dual t hat you want t o see
some ot her car you ar e not int er est ed in t he ones t hat have been shown
t o you so f ar.
" Ot her " , on t he ot her hand, suggest s t hat you have onl y t wo choi ces
avai l able. For exampl e, i f you wer e t o say, " I am not int er est ed i n t hi s car ,
but am i nt er est ed i n t he ot her " , what you mean i s t hat you l i ke t he second
car . A car t hat you have al r eady seen. The choi ce her e i s bet ween t wo car s.
What is t he meani ng of " Gener at i on X" ?
(Vi j aya, Chennai )
161
In Nor t h Amer ica, peopl e bor n bet ween t he mi d-1940s and t he mi d-1960s
ar e r ef er r ed t o as bei ng par t of t he " Baby Boomer " gener at i on. Thei r
chi l dr en bel ong t o " Gener at i on X" . The t er m i s nor mal l y used t o r ef er t o
peopl e bor n bet ween t he mi d-1960s and t he ear l y 1980s. Ther e i s no
agr eement among schol ar s about t he exact year s. Gener at i on X has cer t ai n
negat i ve connot at i ons associ at ed wi t h it . The peopl e bel ongi ng t o t his
gener at i on ar e supposed t o be " mat er i al i st i c" , " apat het i c" , and
" i r r esponsi bl e" . They l ack a sense of di r ect i on. All t hi s i s r ef l ect ed i n t he
ot her t er ms used t o r ef er t o t hi s gener at i on, " Baby Bust er s" , " Sl acker s" , and
" Gr unge Ki ds." The t er m, " Gener at i on X" was f i r st used by Paul Fussel i n one
of hi s ar t i cl es. But i t w asn' t unt i l 1991 when Dougl as Coupl and used
" Gener at i on X" as t he t i t l e of his novel t hat t he t er m caught on. It became a
househol d wor d t hanks t o adver t i ser s. By t he way, any i dea what t he
gener at i on f oll owi ng X i s cal l ed? Gener at i on Y! Pr et t y l ogi cal , woul dn' t you
say?
What is t he meani ng of " i n one' s good books" ?
(P. V. Sr i ni vasan, Chennai )
When you say t hat you ar e " i n someone' s good books" what you mean is
t hat t he per son l i kes you; he appr oves of you. Her e ar e a f ew exampl es.
* I have been i n Ashwi n' s good books ever si nce I helped hi m change his f l at
t yr e.
What i s t he meani ng of " t oo cl ose t o call " ?
162
(P. Sent hi l Sar avan, Vazhaval lan)
Thi s i s an expr essi on we hear very of t en f r om r epor t er s dur i ng el ect i ons and
f r om comment at or s dur i ng one-day mat ches. When you say t hat a game is
t oo cl ose t o cal l , w hat you mean is t hat it is evenl y poi sed, i t i s al most
i mpossi bl e t o pr edi ct which t eam wi l l emer ge t he wi nner . When used dur i ng
el ect i ons, what it i mpl i es i s t hat t he t wo candi dat es ar e r unni ng neck and
neck and t her ef or e pr edi ct i ng t he ul t i mat e w i nner i s not possi bl e r i ght now .
* The count i ng i s goi ng on. The r esul t i s t oo cl ose t o cal l .
What is t he di f f er ence bet ween " bl ue col lar wor ker " and " pink col l ar
w or ker " ?
(Padmavat hi , Nel l or e)
A " bl ue col l ar wor ker " works i n an i ndust r y and i s always invol ved i n manual
l abour . You wi ll f i nd t hi s i ndi vi dual i n f act or i es sweat i ng i t out on t he shop
f l oor . You won' t f i nd hi m si t t i ng behi nd a huge desk i n an of f i ce. Nowadays,
t he t er m can be appl i ed t o bot h men and women. " Pi nk col l ar wor ker s" , on
t he ot her hand, ar e al ways women. Low pai d j obs avai labl e i n of f i ces and
r est aur ant s ar e usual l y r ef er r ed t o " pi nk col l ar j obs" .
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " disposed of " and " di sposed of f " ?
(P. B. Vi j ayar aghavan, Chennai )
163
When you get r i d of someone or somet hi ng, you nor mal l y say " di sposed of " ,
not " di sposed of f " . " Di sposed of f " i s unaccept abl e.
* I want t o know how t he mur der er di sposed of t he bodi es.
In i nf or mal cont ext s, when you say t hat you di sposed of someone, what you
mean i s t hat you ki l l ed hi m. Per haps you hi r ed someone t o do t he ki l l i ng.
* The don asked his hi t man t o dispose of hi s f or mer account ant .
What i s t he di f f er ence bet w een " i nt ui t i vel y" and " i nst i nct i vely" ?
(Anne, Vi shakapat nam)
If someone wer e t o shi ne a br i ght l ight on your f ace, you woul d
aut omat i cal l y cl ose or shi el d your eyes. You woul d do t hese t hi ngs wi t hout
even t hi nki ng. They ar e r esponses you ar e bor n wi t h; t hey ar e " i nnat e" . Thi s
i s what we mean by " i nst i nct i vely" . We r espond t o t hi ngs wi t hout r eal ly
under st anding why we r eact t hat way. Our r esponses ar e aut omat ic;
what ever happens, happens unconsci ousl y. Bot h ani mal s and human bei ngs
ar e bor n w it h i nst i nct s.
* When Raj u hear d gunf i r e, he i nst i nct i vel y di ved/ dove f or cover .
When you do somet hi ng i nt ui t i vel y, you do r eact aut omat i cal l y, but i n t hi s
case t her e is a suggest i on t hat you under st and what it is you ar e doi ng. You
164
ar e able t o f igur e out a sol ut i on t o your pr obl em i n a f r act i on of a second
wi t hout r eall y t hi nki ng about i t . The st or y goes t hat t he st r uct ur e of Benzene
came t o t he chemi st Kekul e i n a sudden moment of insi ght . Thi s i s a case of
i nt ui t i on, not i nst i nct . The wor d " i nt ui t ion" i s most l y used wi t h human
bei ngs, and not w i t h ani mal s.
* Har i i nt ui t i vel y began t o at t ack his opponent ' s backhand.
What is t he meani ng of " once bi t t en t wice shy" ?
(Dr . C. Venkat r amai ah, Ti r upat i )
If you f al l i n love w i t h a gi r l and t he gi r l di t ches you, w hat w oul d your
r eact i on be? You woul d pr obably be r eal l y angr y, but at t he same t i me you
w oul d be scar ed t o f al l i n l ove agai n. Havi ng had a bad exper i ence
pr evi ousl y, you woul d be r el uct ant t o put your sel f i n t he same si t uat i on
agai n. That ' s what t he i di om, " once bit t en t wi ce shy" , means.
* The cat er er ar r i ved t hr ee hour s l at e l ast t i me, so Rama i s not hi r i ng hi m
agai n. I guess it ' s a case of once bi t t en t w i ce shy.
* The last t i me he at e f i sh, he al most choked. He' s st opped eat i ng f ish
al t oget her once bit t en t w i ce shy.
165
What i s t he or i gi n of " yel l ow j our nal ism" ?
(M d. Khal i d Ahmed, Jagi t al )
When someone accuses a newspaper of " yel l ow j our nal i sm" what t hey
mean i s t hat i t pr esent s t he news i n a biased manner . It di st or t s t he f act s
and sensat i onal i ses t he news i n or der t o get t he publ i c t o buy t he paper . It
at t empt s t o i ncr ease i t s ci r cul at i on, not by pr ovi di ng accur at e news, but by
appeal i ng t o t he publ i c' s cur i osi t y. The t er m " yel l ow j our nal i sm" is no l onger
r est r i ct ed t o newspaper s al one, i t i ncl udes al l ot her f or ms of medi a
t el evisi on and r adi o.
* Some of t he l ocal newspaper s ar e cl assic exampl es of yel l ow j our nal i sm.
The expr essi on was popul ar i sed i n t he l at e 19t h Cent ury i n t he U.S. Two
newspaper s, " New Yor k Wor l d" , owned by Joseph Pul i t zer , and " New Yor k
Jour nal " , owned by Wi ll i am Randol ph Hear st , wer e t r yi ng t o become very
popul ar among t he publ i c by pr i nt i ng sensat i onal st or i es. Bot h newspaper s
speci al i sed i n muckr aki ng. The " Wor l d" had a popul ar comic st r i p cal l ed
" Hogan' s Al ley" i n whi ch t he char act er " Yel l ow Ki d" appear ed. Hear st pl ayed
di r t y and got " Hogan' s" cr eat or , R. F. Out caul t , t o j oin hi s paper . The angr y
Pul i t zer hi r ed anot her ar t ist and asked hi m t o cont i nue wi t h t he " Yel l ow
Ki d" . The compet i t i on bet ween t he t wo yel l ow ki ds l ed t o an all out war
bet ween t he t wo papers. Ther e was a cour t bat t l e over t he copyr i ght , and
ver y of t en, st r eet f i ght s br oke out bet ween t he del i ver y boys of t he r i val
newspaper s. The f ight bet ween Hear st and Pul i t zer over t he " Yel l ow Ki d"
began t o symbol i se everyt hi ng t hat was wr ong wi t h Amer i can j our nal i sm.
166
What i s t he di f f er ence bet ween " sob" and " weep" ?
(P. Raman, Tr i chy)
In bot h cases, t ear s f l ow f r om t he eyes. " Weep" i s most l y used i n wr i t i ng,
and is consi der ed a l i t er ar y wor d. When you say t hat someone is weepi ng,
you ar e f ocussi ng on t he t ear s, and not on t he sounds t hat accompany i t .
Weepi ng is usual ly done si l ent l y, whi ch is why you never t alk about a baby
weepi ng. Babi es cr y a l ot of noi se accompani es t he t ear s t hat f low f r om
t hei r eyes. One can weep f or var i ous r easons; we can weep wi t h sor r ow, and
we can weep wi t h j oy. Sobbi ng i s al ways done l oudl y; i t i s accompani ed by a
l ot of noi se. The her oi nes i n our f il ms sob a l ot . Sobbi ng invol ves gaspi ng f or
br eat h and t hi s r esul t s i n a l ot of chest heavi ng. The w or d i s usual l y
associ at ed wi t h mi ser y; unl i ke " weep" , one cannot " sob" wi t h j oy.
What is t he meani ng of " shi mmy" ?
(Vi nod E. Kumar , Secunder abad)
Some peopl e w hen t hey w alk, shake t hei r hi ps and shoul der s si de t o si de.
Thi s i s w hat w e mean by " shi mmy" ; i t i s a w or d t hat i s nor mal ly associ at ed
w i t h danci ng.
* As t he si nger shi mmi ed acr oss t he st age, t he audi ence w ent w i l d. In
Amer i can Engl i sh, t he wor d is al so used i n i nf or mal cont ext s t o mean,
" vi br at e or shake" .
* The f r ont wheel of Vel u' s scoot er shi mmied.
167
What is t he pl ur al of " f or mul a" ?
(R. M . Lakshmi , M adur ai )
The wor d has t wo possi bl e pl ur al s f ormul ae and f or mul as. The " ae" i n t he
f i nal syl l abl e of " f or mul ae" i s pr onounced l i ke t he " ee" i n " bees" , " f ees" , and
" knees" . The st r ess i n t he case of all t hr ee wor ds i s on t he f i r st syl l abl e. The
Lat i n pl ur al " f or mul ae" i s t he pr ef er r ed wor d in sci ent i f i c cont ext s, whi le
" f or mul as" i s used el sewher e. For exampl e, one t al ks about " mat hemat i cal
f or mul ae" and " pol i t i cal and di pl omat i c f or mul as" .
What is t he meani ng of r edr ess ?
(M . Seshu, New Del hi )
The e i n t he f ir st syl l abl e sounds l ike t he i i n i t , bi t , and hi t , and t he
second syl l abl e i s pr onounced l i ke t he wor d dr ess . Thi s f or mal wor d can be
used as a noun and a ver b, and i n bot h cases, t he st r ess can be put on t he
second syl l abl e. Thi s i s j ust one of t he ways of pr onounci ng t he wor d.
Somet i mes, when we i nj ur e someone or t r eat someone badly, we ar e f or ced
t o pay t hem some f or m of compensat i on. Thi s money t hat we pay t he
i ndi vidual i s cal l ed r edr ess . When used as a ver b, t he w or d means t o t o
168
make up f or or compensat e . The wor d comes f r om r e meani ng agai n and
dr eci er meani ng st r ai ght en .
* The Chi ef M i ni st er , as expect ed, r ef used t o r edr ess t he gr i evances of
t eacher s.
What is t he meani ng of w ebinar ?
(T.Janaki r aman, Bangal or e)
The wor d is a combi nat i on of web and semi nar . A webi nar is a semi nar
t hat is t r ansmi t t ed over t he web; it i nvol ves a l ot of i nt er act i on bet ween t he
par t i ci pant s. The t er m can be used t o r ef er t o a pr esent at i on, l ect ur e or
wor kshop t hat i s br oadcast over t he web.
I m af r ai d I won t be abl e t o come. I m t aki ng par t i n a webi nar .
What is t he di f f er ence bet ween br eeze away and br eeze t hr ough ?
(C. Shandi l ya, Hosur )
When you br eeze t hr ough an assi gnment , you manage t o do i t qui ckl y
wi t hout t oo much di f f icul t y. You f i nd t he t ask r at her easy.
I t hought I d be able t o br eeze t hr ough t he t est . I was sadl y mi st aken.
Af t er br eezi ng t hr ough her chor es, my mot her went out f or a walk.
169
The expr essi on can also be used t o mean t o t r avel t hr ough a pl ace r api dl y .
In t hi s case, you don t make a st op.
It was get t i ng l at e. The candi dat e j ust br eezed t hr ough sever al smal l t owns
When you br eeze away f r om some pl ace, you l eave i t qui ckl y or abr upt l y. It
has) mor e or less t he same meani ng as br eeze of f .
Namr at ha br eezed away wit hout even t hanki ng t he host s.
The CEO st opped i n mi d sent ence and just br eezed away.
Is i t okay t o say Hi s r esi gnat i on has been be sanct i oned ?
(R. S. Pr akash, Dhar w ad)
No, i t i sn t . Sanct i on i s not a w or d t hat one associ at es w i t h r esi gnat i on. One
can sanct i on someone s l eave, budget , pr oj ect , et c. Resignat i ons ar e ei t her
accept ed or r ej ect ed.
170
When you ar e wr i t i ng a cheque, whi ch of t he f ol l owi ng is cor r ect Two
hundr ed and f i f t y f i ve or Two hundr ed f i f t y f i ve?
(K. Rat hnam, Hyder abad)
Bot h ar e cor r ect . It depends on whi ch side of t he At l ant i c you ar e f r om. If
you ar e Br i t i sh, t hen you woul d use and . Amer i cans, I under st and, t end t o
wr i t e t he amount wit hout t he and . M ost Indi ans t end t o f ol l ow t he Br i t i sh.
Why i s money r ef er r ed t o as bucks ?
(S. Sr i har sha, Chennai )
Ther e was a t ime when t he t er m bucks was onl y used t o r ef er t o t he
Amer i can doll ar . Nowadays, t he wor d i s used t o r ef er t o money i n gener al .
Even t he Indi an r upee, i n i nf or mal cont ext s, i s bei ng cal l ed a buck.
* Who i s maki ng t he bi g bucks i n your f ami l y?
The i nvent i on of paper money i s a r ecent phenomenon. In t he ol d days,
when peopl e want ed t o buy somet hi ng, t hey usuall y t r aded or bar t er ed
what t hey had. When a hunt er want ed gr ai n f r om a f ar mer , he usual l y
t r aded ani mal ski n or dr i ed meat f or it . The t er m buck i s act ual l y t he shor t
f or m of buckski n . A buck, as you know i s a mal e deer ; buckski n , t her ef or e,
i s t he ski n of t hi s deer. Hunt ers, w hen t hey di d busi ness made use of
buckski ns . Lat er on, wi t h t he passage of t i me, t he wor d buckski n i n
171
ever yday conver sat i on was shor t ened t o buck . When paper money was
i nt r oduced much l at er , peopl e began t o cal l i t buck .
What is t he di f f er ence bet ween `t al k t o' and `t al k wit h' ?
(Vi sw esw ar an, M et t upal ayam)
The expr essi on `t al k t o' has sever al di f f er ent meani ngs. When you t al k t o
someone, you speak t o hi m. You may spend a shor t t i me or a l ong t i me
speaki ng t o t he i n di vi dual .
I' l l t alk t o my w i f e and let you know w hat she t hi nks. The expr essi on can al so
be used t o mean t o scol d or l ect ur e someone. In t hi s case, i t ' s mor e of a
monol ogue t han a di al ogue.
I t hi nk you shoul d gi ve your daught er a good t al ki ng t o. She' s hasn' t been
doi ng her assi gnment s. When you t alk wi t h someone, you di scuss somet hi ng
wi t h him. The amount of t i me t hat you spend wi t h t he i ndi vi dual i s usual l y
l ong: i n t hi s case, t her e i s a conver sat i on.
Ananya spent an hour t alki ng wi t h her f at her about her new bat .
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What is the difference between averse and adverse?
( B. Raj asekhar, Tiruchirapalli)
I f you are `averse t o somet hing, you are st rongly opposed t o
it . You disapprove of it , and are t herefore reluct ant or
disinclined t o do it . The word is usually followed by `t o. I n
Brit ish English, `averse has t he st ress on t he second syllable.
My friend Kalpana is averse t o any form of exercise.
Li ke most polit icians, he is not averse t o publicit y.
`Adverse, on t he ot her hand, means `having negat ive or
harmful effect on somet hing. When somet hing adverse
happens, somet hing `unfavourable t akes place. The word is
nor mall y used t o refer t o ext ernal cir cumst ances.
They decided t o call off t he mat ch due t o adverse weat her
condit ions.
The Brit ish put t he st ress on t he first syllable, and t he
Americans put it on t he second.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of pigeonhole someone?
( K. Sridevi, Karaikudi)
173
First , let s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion of `pigeon. The `g
sounds like t he `j in `j am and `j uice; and t he final `eon is
pronounced like t he word `in.
The word is pronounced `pij - in wit h t he st ress on t he first
syllable. When you `pigeonhole someone or `put someone in
a pigeonhole, you put him in a par t icular cat egor y wit hout
really considering all his qualit ies. The opinion you have of
t he individual remains fixed, and t heres not hing t hat t he
person can do t o get you t o change your mind. Pigeonholing
oft en result s in classifying someone in a rat her rigid manner.
This expression, most ly used t o show disapproval, can be
used wit h bot h people and t hings.
Kunt halas grandson has been unfort unat ely pigeonholed as a
problem child.
S. UPENDRAN
Is it okay to say that something was frightfully good?
( K. I ndrani, Chidambaram)
Yes, it is. `Fri ght fully does not mean `fri ght ening. When you
say t hat somet hing is `fright full y good, you mean t hat it is
`ext remely good or `very good. This use of t he word
`fri ght fully is most ly heard in Brit ish English; it is, however,
considered rat her old fashioned.
Tapas, you must see t he movie. I t is fright fully good.
We are fright fully sorry about t he commot ion we caused last
ni ght .
What is the difference between license and licence?
174
( J. Raj eevan, Trivandrum)
There are several pairs like t his in English - for inst ance,
advice, advise; pract ice, pract ise; licence, license. The Brit ish
make a dist inct ion bet ween such pairs. The words `advice,
`pract ice, and `licence are usually used as nouns. `Pract ise,
`advise, and `license, on t he ot her hand, are always used as
ver bs. A `licence is what you need t o drive a car.
The well known spy, James Bond, has licence t o kill. When
you grant license t o someone, you give t hem permission.
Many hot els in I ndia are not licensed t o sell liquor. People in
t he army are licensed t o carry guns.
When it comes t o spelling, Americans dont make a
dist inct ion bet ween such pair s. Bot h t he noun and t he verb
are usually spelt wit h an `s: pract ise, advise, and license.
A posit ive at t it ude may not solve all your problems, but it
will annoy enough people t o make it wort h your effort . -
Her m Al br i ght
S. UPENDRAN
What is the difference between autopsy and post mortem?
( Raj am, Saligramam)
According t o most dict ionaries, t he t wo words mean t he
same t hing. When a doct or does a `post mort em or an
`aut opsy, he examines t he body of a dead person. The body
is usually cut open in order t o det ermine t he cause of deat h.
Aut opsy seems t o be t he preferred t erm in t he case of a
homicide.
* We dont know t he cause of deat h. Well have t o do an
aut opsy/ a post mort em.
175
The word aut opsy lit erall y means `seeing wit h ones own
eyes. `Post mort em, meaning `aft er deat h, is act ually a
short ening of `post mort em examinat ion. Unlike t he word
`aut opsy, `post mort em can be used in general cont ext s as
well. When you conduct a post mort em of an event , you
review it ; you usually examine it t o det ermine why t he event
failed.
* Aft er ever y mat ch, t he coach spends half an hour doing a
post mort em
What is the meaning of the expression grow on someone?
( G. Raj kumar, Chennai)
When we meet someone for t he first t ime, we may not like
t he person. As we int eract wit h him more and more, we
sl owly begin t o like him. This is what we mean by t he
expression `grow on someone. We begin t o like someone
whom we werent favourably disposed t o in t he beginning.
The expression can be used wit h t hings as well.
* The first t ime I hear d t he song, I didnt like it . Now it s
beginning t o grow on me.
What is the meaning of the expression in the thick of things?
( Shreevidya, Chennai)
176
This is an expressi on t hat is most ly used in informal cont ext s.
When you say t hat someone is in t he t hick of t hings, what
you mean is t hat he is deeply involved in somet hing; in ot her
words, he is t aking an act ive part in it .
* There was a fierce bat t le going on, and Suresh found
himself in t he t hick
What is the difference in meaning between continually and
continuously?
( T. Shanmuga Sundaram, Tir uchengode)
I f you work `cont inuously for four hours, you work non- st op
for four hours. You dont t ake a break in bet ween; you work
wit hout any int errupt ion.
* St anding on t op of t he dune, all she saw was a cont inuous
st ret ch of sand.
I f you say you have been working cont inually for several
hours, it implies youve spent most of your t ime working. I n
t his case, you didnt work non- st op; you worked wit h
int errupt ions. Maybe you t ook a five- minut e break aft er
ever y hour of work you put in. These breaks may have been
eit her volunt ary or involunt ar y. The word `cont inually is used
t o refer t o repeat ed act ion.
* Our neighbours new dog cont inuall y bar ked all ni ght .
According t o some comment at ors, t his subt le dist inct ion
bet ween t he t wo words is no longer being maint ained by
many speakers of English
177
What is the difference between however and how ever?
( S. M. Brahma Raj u, Bangalore)
`However, as one word, is normally used t o int roduce a
st at ement which cont rast s wit h somet hing you had said
earlier.
* Hema is usually very reserved. At t he part y, however, she
let her hair down.
The word can also be used in sent ences t o mean `t o what ever
degree.
* However hard you t ry, you wont be able t o defeat him.
`How ever is normally used t o show surprise. According t o
t he Oxford Advanced Learners Dict ionary, "When `ever is
used t o emphasise `how, meaning in what way or manner, it
is writ t en as t wo separat e words. "
* How ever did Maya manage t o get here so quickly?
What is the meaning of `blow away the cobwebs'?
( R. Shrut hi, Chennai)
This is an idiom which is most ly used in Brit i sh and Aust rali an
English. Somet imes when we have st ayed indoors for a long
t i me, we feel t ired or bored. To overcome t hese feelings,
what is it t hat we do? Most of t he t ime, we decide t o st ep
out side and get some fresh air. We may go for a walk, or
178
play some cricket , t ennis, et c. This out door act i vit y which we
t ake part in t o clear our head is called ` blow away t he
cobwebs' .
A nice lit t le walk on t he beach should blow away t he
cobwebs.
* * *
"The onl y funct ion of economic forecast ing is t o make
ast rology look respect able." - John Kennet h Galbrait h
Cor rect ion: Answer t o t he first quest ion t hat appeared in t his
column on Oct ober 21: t he word shoul d have been
` unchart ed' and not ` unchart ered' . The error is regret t ed.
What is the meaning of unchartered waters?
( V. Chandrasekharan, Kumbakonam)
When you say t hat a place is `unchart ered, what you mean is
t hat t he area has not been explored. As it has not been
surveyed, you will not find it plot t ed on any map. I t is
somet hing t hat is new and has never been described.
* We dont know anyt hing about t he island. I t is unchart ed.
When you refer t o a sit uat ion or an experience as being
`unchart ered wat ers or `unchart ered t errit ory, you mean it is
new or unfamiliar. The t wo expressions are used t o mean
`unknown.
Being in t he final of a Grand Slam t ournament is unchart ered
wat ers for Andy.
What is the difference between allude and elude?
179
( T. Vij aya, Trivandrum)
First , let s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion of t he t wo words. The
`a in `allude is like t he `a in `china, and t he following
syllable rhymes wit h `rude, `crude, and `Jude. The word is
pronounced `a- luude. The `e in `elude is like t he `i in `it and
`bit , and t he following syllable sounds like t he `lude in
`allude. The word is pronounced `i- luude. I n bot h cases, t he
st ress is on t he second syllable.
When you `allude t o someone or somet hing, you refer t o t he
person or t hing in a rat her indirect way. The word is most ly
used in formal cont ext s.
* I n his present at ion, t he speaker alluded t o several problems
t hat might result .
When you `elude someone, you are clever enough t o avoid
t hem or escape from t hem.
* The fugit ive succeeded in eluding t he police for several
weeks.
The word can be used wit h t hings as well. When somet hing
`eludes you, you fail t o underst and it or remember it .
I met her at last years conference. Her name, however,
eludes me.
What is the difference in meaning between I married her and I
was married to her?
( P.V. Rama Chander, Vishakapat nam)
Bot h sent ences are grammat ically accept able. The second
sent ence suggest s t hat you were married t o t he girl
somet ime ago; current ly, you are not married t o her. I n t he
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case of t he first sent ence, t he meaning is not ent irely clear.
One is not very sure if t he girl cont inues t o be your wife or
not . You may be married t o her, you may not be.
What is the meaning and origin of `beat around the bush'?
( C.S. Shi var am, Tenal i ) Somet i mes w hen someone
ask s us a quest i on, w e t r y and avoi d answ er i ng i t . I t ' s
not because w e don' t k now t he answ er ; t he answ er i s
r at her embar r assi ng. Ther ef or e, i nst ead of gi vi ng t he
per son a di r ect answ er , w e go about answ er i ng hi s
quest i on i n a r oundabout w ay. Thi s i ndi r ect w ay of
answ er i ng quest i ons i s cal l ed ` beat i ng about / ar ound
t he bush' . Ver y of t en, peopl e beat about t he bush i n
or der t o conceal t hei r r eal i nt ent i on.
* For god' s sak e, st op beat i ng about / ar ound t he bush.
How much i s i t goi ng t o cost ?
* Wi l l you pl ease st op beat i ng ar ound/ about t he bush?
Just answ er my quest i on.
The ex pr essi on comes f r om t he r at her cr uel spor t of
` bat f ow l i ng' . I n t hi s spor t , peopl e ( ` bat f ow l er s' )
ent er ed t he f or est dur i ng t he ni ght and pr oceeded t o
k i l l ` f ow l s' ( bi r ds) w i t h t he ` bat s' or cl ubs t hey w er e
car r yi ng. The bat f ow l er s and t he ser vant s t hat t hey
t ook w i t h t hem used t o scar e bi r ds by beat i ng ar ound
t he bush i n w hi ch t hey w er e sl eepi ng. The sl eepy
bi r ds, dazed and conf used by t he sudden commot i on,
w oul d t hen f l y di r ect l y t o t he br i ght l i ght s t hat t he men
w er e car r yi ng. Her e t hey w er e beat en t o deat h. The
men w ho w er e beat i ng about t he bush w er e not r eal l y
i nt er est ed i n t he bush; t hey w er e i nt er est ed i n t he
bi r ds t hat w er e sl eepi ng t her e. Ther ef or e, w hen
someone beat s ar ound t he bush, he i s conceal i ng t he
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t hi n g t hat he i s i nt er est ed i n; he doesn' t come t o t he
poi nt di r ect l y.
I have heard people say, `I usually visit my friends at weekends'.
Shouldn't it be `on weekends'?
( N. Raghavan, Secunder abad) Bot h ` on w eek ends' and
` at w eek ends' ar e cor r ect . I under st and ` at w eek ends'
i s much mor e common i n Br i t i sh Engl i sh. ` On
w eek ends' , on t he ot her hand, i s f r equent l y used i n
Amer i can Engl i sh.
* My f r i end Gopa usual l y get s up l at e on/ at w eek ends.
What is the difference between `bail' and `parole'?
( J. Bhar at h, Thanj avur ) Bai l i s t he amount of money
t hat an i ndi vi dual w ho has been accused of a cr i me
pays t he cour t i n or der t o be r el eased t i l l hi s t r i al
begi n s. I t i s gi ven t o peopl e w h o have been ar r est ed,
but w h ose case hasn' t come t o cour t as yet . The
i n di vi dual ask i ng f or bai l i s usual l y made t o pay a hef t y
sum by t he j udge; t hi s amount i s put f or w ar d as a
guar ant ee t hat t he accused w i l l be pr esent at hi s t r i al .
Not ever yone w h o ask s f or bai l get s i t ; i t i s t he j udge
w h o det er mi nes w het her someone shoul d be
` r el eased' or ` r emanded' on bai l .
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* The j udge, as ex pect ed, r ef used t o gr ant bai l t o t he
Mi ni st er .
Pr i soner s ar e somet i mes r el eased on par ol e. I n t hi s
case, unl i k e t he per son mak i ng ` bai l ' , t he per son has
st ood t r i al , has been f ound gui l t y, and has been
sent enced by t he j udge. When a pr i soner i s r el eased
on par ol e, he i s set f r ee bef or e he has compl et ed hi s
sent ence. Once r el eased, he mu st behave w el l and
mu st not get i nt o t r oubl e. I f he does get i nt o t r oubl e,
he may be sent back t o pr i son. I n t he case of par ol e,
t he i ndi vi dual doesn' t pay t he cour t any money.
* The gover nment has been accused of r el easi ng
mu r der er s and r api st s on par ol e.
* * *
What is the meaning and origin of one swallow does not make a
summer?
( T. Janaki, Madurai)
This is an expression t hat is normally used t o caut ion
someone. When you say t hat one swallow does not make a
summer, what you mean is t hat j ust because somet hing
good has happened, it doesnt mean good t hings will
cont inue t o happen. Chances are t hings may go bad, inst ead
of improving. You are request ing t he individual t o err on t he
si de of caut ion, and not t o get carried away.
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Just because youve won t he first round doesnt mean youre
goi ng t o win t he championship. Remember , one swallow does
not make a summer.
The expression comes from t he world of Aesops Fairy Tales.
I n t he st or y, a young man sees a swallow on a warm wint er
day. As you know, a swallow is a bird which usuall y appears
during spring. Thinking t hat t he wint er season is over, t he
young man sells off his woollen coat , and wit h t he money he
has made, he goes t o t he bar and drinks. Unfort unat ely, in
t he days t hat follow, t he t emperat ure drops. The young man,
shivering in t he cold, realises t hat one swallow does not
make a summer.
What is the meaning of thumb lashing?
( B. Pandurangam, Chennai)
We all know what `t ongue lashing means. I t is when
someone scolds or crit icises us for somet hing we have done
or not done. We have all been subj ect ed t o a t ongue lashing
from our parent s and friends. Tongue lashing has been going
on for ages. `Thumb lashing, on t he ot her hand, is
somet hing new. Nowadays, t hanks t o t he mobile phone, we
are available t o people 24/ 7. I f a person is angr y wit h you,
he doesnt have t o act ually see you or t alk t o you t o give you
a piece of his mind. He can send an angry SMS; t his angry
message t hat you get on t he cell phone is called `t humb
lashing. All t hat t he person makes use of t o send you t he
message is his t humb!
* I got a t humb lashing from my friend for forget t ing his
birt hday.
The int roduct ion of t he cell phone has resul t ed in t he coining
of new words and expressions. One of t hem happens t o be
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`t humb me. When you ask someone t o t humb you, you are
request ing him/ her t o send you an SMS. You dont want t he
person t o `call you, but `t humb you!
* I f you manage t o get t he t icket s, t humb me.
What is the difference between peruse and browse?
( L. Kailash, Trichy)
`Browsing is somet hing t hat we nor mall y do when we are in
a bookshop. Before we decide what t o buy, we invariably
t ake a look at t he books and magazines available.
Somet imes we read t he blurbs, at ot her t imes, we sample a
par agraph or t wo in order t o deci de whet her t he book is
wort h buying. When you browse t hrough a book or
magazine, you look at it in a very casual way; you do not
read it carefully.
* He was browsing t hr ough t he sport s sect i on when t he
phone rang.
* Could you browse t hrough t he first draft and give us some
feedback?
`Perusing, unlike `browsing, suggest s very careful reading.
When you peruse a document , you go t hrough it ver y
carefully. You examine t he document in det ail; you read each
and ever y word.
What is the meaning and origin of `eyewash'?
( R. Yogesh, Bangalore)
This is an expressi on t hat is most ly used in informal cont ext s.
An ` eyewash' , as you know, is a liquid t hat is used t o clean
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t he eyes. Figurat ively, however, t his expression of American
ori gin is frequent ly used t o mean ` nonsense' or ` decept ion' .
You may t hink t hat what I ' m t elling you is all eyewash. Bu
it ' s t he t rut h. The conclusion ar rived at by t he so called fact
finding commit t ee was j ust eyewash.
What is the meaning of `rap on the knuckles'?
( B. Venkat esh, Chennai)
The word ` rap' means t o hit sharply, and ` knuckles' refer t o
t he j oint s in one' s hands and fingers. Therefore, when you
rap someone on his knuckles, what you are doing is hit t ing
t he person sharply on t he back of his hand. Many t eachers in
our count ry rap t he st udent s on t heir knuckles. The idiom
means t o speak t o someone angrily because he has done
somet hing wrong or has failed t o do somet hing. The
punishment t hat is given is not very severe; it is usually
given t o an individual t o ser ve as a warning.
I got a sharp rap on t he knuckles for not finishing t he proj ect
on t ime.
The coach rapped t he players on t he knuckles for t urning up
lat e for pract ice.
What is the difference between `reputed' and `reputable'?
( G. Anand, Pune)
We I ndians don' t really make a dist inct ion bet ween t hese t wo
words. We t end t o use t he word ` reput ed' when what we
mean is ` reput able' . Many people mist akenly refer t o all t he
t op companies in t he count ry as ` reput ed firms' - when what
t hey mean is ` reput able firms' . When you say t hat a firm is
186
` reput able' , what you mean is t hat it has a good reput at ion,
and t herefore can be t r ust ed. I t is a dependable firm, one
t hat is capable of providing excellent service. I n t his case,
you are sure of t he fact s. I t is not based on hearsay.
Hema is looking for a j ob wit h a reput able firm. When you
say t hat a firm is ` reput ed' , what you mean is t hat you have
hear d ot her people saying t hat it is a good firm. You yourself
are not very sure if it is a good company or not . I n t his case,
t here is an element of doubt as t o whet her it is or not .
The company hired him because of his reput ed skill as a
t r ouble shoot er.
What does `sotto voce' mean?
( Pradeep Kumar, Allahabad)
First , let ' s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion. The first ` o' in ` sot t o'
sounds like t he ` o' in ` hot ' , ` pot ' , and ` got ' . The second ` o'
and t he ` o' in ` voce' sound like t he ` o' in ` go' , ` no' , and
` so' ; t he ` c' is like t he ` ch' in ` chick' , ` chips' , and ` chin' .
The ` e' is like t he ` i' in ` bit ' , ` kit ' , and ` sit ' , and t he main
st ress is on t he first syllable of ` voce' . The I t alian expression
is pronounced ` so- t oe voechi' . ` Sot t o' means ` under' and
` voce' means ` voice' ; when you say somet hing ` sot t o voce' ,
you say it under your breat h or as an aside.
* * *
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"I was always t aught t o respect my elders, and I ' ve now
reached t he age when I don' t have anyone t o respect ."
George Burns
What is the meaning of PowerPoint singalong?
( B. Revat hi, Chennai)
Nowadays, whenever someone gives a t al k or makes a
present at ion, it is usually accompanied by PowerPoint sli des.
I t is somet hing t hat t he audience expect s; a present at ion is
incomplet e wit hout one. These slides which t he speaker
shows oft en cont ain t he main point s t hat he is t r ying t o
make.
There are occasions, however, when t he speaker includes in
his slides everyt hing t hat he is going t o say. As a result ,
during t he present at ion, all he does is merely read from t he
sli des; he doesnt add anyt hing new.
Such a present at ion where t he speaker reads verbat im from
t he slides wit hout providing any comment is called
`PowerPoint singalong.
The present at ion was not hing more t han a Power Point
singalong
Why is the word always capitalised?
( Sat ya, Hyderabad)
I underst and t hat English is t he onl y language where t he
pronoun `I is always writ t en in t he upper case; in most ot her
languages spoken in Europe, it is writ t en in t he lower case. I
guess t his goes t o show t hat t he English have a big ego! Just
188
kidding! The only explanat ion t hat scholar s have for t his is
t hat when t he Old English `ich, meaning `I, was reduced t o
`i, it was t hought t o be t oo small t o be considered a real
word. Also, print ers and scribes were worried t hat `i, when
writ t en separat ely, would get at t ached t o t he word before or
aft er it . Since t hey didnt want t his t o happen, t hey began t o
capit alise t he word.
What is the meaning and origin of chink in the armour?
( Aswin, Chennai)
This is an expression t hat has been par t of t he English
language for over 600 years. When you say t hat someone
has a chink in his armour, what you mean is t hat t he person
has a minor fault which is likely t o cause him problems. I n
ot her words, t he per son has a flaw which can be t aken
advant age of by ot her people. The expression can be used
wit h t hings as well.
* The up and coming st ar spent hours looking for a chink in
t he champions ar mour.
The word `chink has not hing t o do wit h a `Chinaman. This
`chink is a rat her obscure word meaning `slit or `narrow
opening. I n t he old days, as a form of prot ect ion, soldiers
used t o wear armour. I f t he ar mour had a slit , t hen it
became a weak spot , which enemies t ook advant age of.
What is the meaning of statuesque?
( M. Govardhan, Hyderabad)
189
First , let s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion of t he word. The `a is
like t he `a in `cat and `bat , while t he following `t is like t he
`ch in `chat and `chap. The `u sounds like t he `u in `put and
`pull, and t he final `esque is like t he `esk in `desk. The word
is pronounced `st a- chu- esk wit h t he st ress on t he final
syllable `esk.
This is a word which is generally used t o show appr oval.
When you say t hat somet hing is st at uesque, what you mean
is t hat it is well proport ioned like a st at ue.
The word is also used t o refer t o women. When you refer t o a
woman as being `st at uesque, what you mean is t hat she is
at t ract ivel y t all, graceful, and digni fied.
* At t he press conference, t he st at uesque act ress said she
was planning on quit t ing films.
In 8 A.M, what does A.M stand for?
( B. M. Baj aj , Gurgaon)
I t st ands for `ant e meridiem meaning `before noon. Please
not e t hat it is `ant e and not `ant i. `P.M, on t he ot her hand,
st ands for `post meridiem, meaning `post noon. This
explains why midnight is writ t en as 12 A. M
What is the difference between impasse and deadlock?
( R. Thirunarayan, Chidambaram)
First , let us deal wit h t he pronunciat ion of t he French word
`impasse. The Brit ish t end t o pronounce t he `i in t he first
syllable like t he `a in `ant , `pant s, and `apple, and t he `a in
t he second like t he `a in `ask, `answer, and `car. They
pronounce t he word `ampaas. This is j ust one of t he ways
t hat t he English pronounce t he word. Americans, on t he
190
ot her hand, pronounce t he `im like t he `im in `him, `Tim and
`Kim, and t he following `a like t he `a in `cat and `bat . They
pronounce t he word `impass. I n bot h cases, t he final `e is
silent , and t he st ress is on t he first syllable.
As far as t he meaning is concerned, t he t wo can be used
int erchangeably in most cont ext s. When t wo par t ies reach an
impasse or deadlock, t hey reach a dead- end. They are in a
difficult posit ion and are unable t o reach an agreement about
somet hing; t hey are unable t o move forwar d in t heir
discussions.
* Peace t alks bet ween t he t wo count ries ended in deadlock
How is the word sleuth pronounced? Why are detectives called
sleuths?
( P. Mallika, Hyderabad)
Sleut h rhymes wit h `t r ut h, `boot h and `Rut h. The wor d
comes from t he compound `sleut hhound; it was a dog like a
bloodhound which was mainly used for t racking people and
animals. Wit h t he passage of t ime, t he word was reduced t o
`sleut h, and like many ot her words, it acquired a figurat ive
meaning. I t meant t o t rack or pur sue someone or somet hing.
Since t his is what det ect ives do, pur sue or t rack people, it is
not surprising t hat t he word began t o be used t o refer t o
t hem. Hercule Poir ot and Sherlock Holmes are some of t he
well- known sleut hs in fict ion. The word is considered t o be
rat her old fashioned.
What is the meaning of tryst?
( I mpung Chang, New Delhi)
191
The `y in t he word is pronounced like t he `i in `fist , `mist ,
and `list . `Tr yst is considered t o be a lit erary word which is
most ly used in Brit ish English. The meet ing of t wo lovers in a
quiet and secluded place is called a t ryst . The word nowadays
is being used t o mean `appoint ment . Tr yst comes from
`t rist re meaning `appoint ed st at ion in hunt ing.
* According t o some people, I ndia has a t r yst wit h dest iny.
What is the meaning and origin of let your hair down?
( C. Banumat hi, Chennai)
When you t ell someone t o let his hair down, you are t elling
him t o relax and have a good t ime. You are asking him t o be
himself and not worry about what ot hers will t hink of him.
* Somebody needs t o t ell t he new boss t o let his hair down
once in a while.
The expression comes from t he world of fashion. Cent uries
ago, women, when t hey were in public, had t o wear t heir hair
up. The only t ime when t hey could lit erally let t heir hair
down, and be t hemselves, was when t hey were in t he privacy
of t heir `bed chamber .
What is the meaning of Adidas? Where does the word come
from?
( K. Shant hi, Bangalore)
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The word doesnt reall y mean anyt hing. There was t ime when
people believed t hat `Adidas was an acronym for `All Day I
Dream About Sport . Of course, some people t hought t hat
t he `s st ood for somet hing else! Neit her st ory is based on
fact . The founder of Adidas was a German named Adolf
Dassler; he was nicknamed `Adi by his friends. When Dassler
st art ed his company in 1924, he decided t o name it aft er
himself. He combined his nickname `Adi wit h t he first half of
his sur name `Dassler and got `Adidas! St art ing a shoe
company seems t o have run in t he family. Adolph Dassler s
brot her, Rudolph, was t he founder of t he Puma shoe
company.
What is the meaning and origin of hitting below the belt?
When you hit someone below t he belt , you are being rat her
cr uel or unfair; you are not playing by t he rules of t he game.
You are using unfair means t o get what you want , and in t he
process you deliber at el y hurt t he ot her per son.
* Making fun of t he poor womans dead husband was
definit ely hit t ing below t he belt .
The expression comes from t he world of boxing. According t o
t he Marquis of Queensbury Rules, a boxer is allowed t o hit
his opponent only on t he upper body or t he head. He is not
all owed t o hit below t he waist belt
What is the difference between deadly and deathly?
( E. Silambarsan, Erode)
The word `deadly is nor mall y used t o suggest t hat somet hing
is `fat al. I t is somet hing t hat is likely t o cause t he deat h of
someone or somet hing.
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* According t o t his report , t he t err orist s were carrying deadly
weapons.
"Deadly can also be used t o mean "ext remely or "ver y.
* The t emperat ure has dropped. I t s become deadly cold.
The word "deat hly, on t he ot her hand, is most ly used
fi gurat ively t o mean "suggest ive of deat h or "like deat h. For
example, if you say t hat someone is "deat hly pale, what you
mean is t hat he is ext remely pale; as pale as someone who is
dead.
* Aft er being hit by t he car, t he poor dog lay deat hly st ill .
When you want t o say t hat somet hing is `very dull, t he word
t hat you are looking for is `deadly and not `deat hl y.
* You need t o have t ons of pat ience t o list en t o him. The man
is a deadly bore.
What is the meaning of invidious?
( Y. N. Murt hy, Hyderabad)
This is a word t hat is most ly used in formal cont ext s. I t
comes from t he Lat in `invidia meaning `envy or `malice.
When you refer t o a t ask as being `invidious, what you mean
is t hat it is likely t o be rat her unpleasant ; one t hat coul d
cause resent ment or a lot of unhappiness.
* He was given t he invidious t ask of comment ing on his boss
wor k.
The word can also mean `offensively unfair or
`discriminat ing. An `invidious comparison is one where you
are made t o compare t wo t hings which are very different .
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The comparison can somet imes be made difficult because t he
t wo obj ect s are eit her equally good or equally bad.
* As a mot her, she resent ed t he invidious comparison
bet ween t he t wo children.
What is the meaning of shoestring budget?
( Anj ali Anirudh, Bangalore)
What we call `shoelace, t he Americans call `shoest ring. As
we all know, shoest rings are pret t y inexpensive; one doesnt
reall y have t o spend t oo much money t o buy a pair .
Therefore, when you say t hat somet hing was done on a
`shoest ring budget , what you mean is t hat it was done using
a very small amount of money; you had very lit t le money t o
spend.
* My fat her says well be making our next film on a shoest ring
budget .
What is the difference between lease and rent?
( N. Gurumurt hy, Chennai)
When you lease somet hing, it always involves a writ t en
cont ract - it is a legal agreement . I n t he case of propert y,
you draw up a cont ract which specifies t he durat ion of t he
st ay and t he amount of money you will pay t he landlord each
mont h as rent . During t his period of lease, t he t wo part ies
are bound by t he cont ract ; unless bot h part ies agree, t he
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t erms of agreement cannot be changed. The landlord cannot
suddenly increase t he rent , and t he t enant cannot vacat e t he
propert y as and when he likes. Should t he t enant decide t o
leave before t he lease expires, he may have t o pay t he rent
for t he remaining period or find anot her individual t o t ake
over his lease.
When you rent a propert y, it doesnt always include a writ t en
cont ract . As a result , bot h part ies can change t he t erms of
agreement : t he landlord can increase t he rent whenever he
want s t o. He can ask t he t enant t o vacat e t he premises
giving him a 30- day not ice. The t enant t oo can leave
whenever he want s t o.
What is the meaning and origin of the expression bolt from the
blue?
( R. Balakrishnan, Chennai)
When you say t hat somet hing was a bolt from t he blue, what
you mean is t hat it was t ot ally unexpect ed; t he result was
somet hing t hat surprised you very much.
* The fact t hat Rahul had failed t he exam was a bolt from t he
blue.
The word `bolt refers t o t he t hunderbolt t hat we oft en hear
during heavy rain, and t he `blue refers t o t he blue sky. On a
beaut iful day, when t here are no cl ouds, and t he sky is blue,
we generally dont expect t o hear t he sound of t hunder . I f we
do hear one, it comes as a t ot al surprise.
What is the meaning and origin of riding roughshod over
someone?
196
( K. S. Sundaram, Bangalore)
When you `ride roughshod over someone, you dominat e t he
person quit e rut hlessly. You j ust walk all over him. You do
what you want t o, and you dont really care what t he ot her
person t hinks. I f t he circumst ances demand it , you use brut al
force t o get t he desired result s.
The new boss is a bully and rides roughshod over everyone.
The t erm `roughshod refers t o t he t ype of shoe t hat was
oft en mount ed on a horses hoof. The word `shod, as you
probably know, is relat ed t o t he word `shoe; in order t o
ensure t hat t he horse didnt slip, t he shoes were oft en kept
rough. To make sure t hat t he animal had good t r act ion, what
t he blacksmit h did was t o leave t he nailheads proj ect ing from
t he shoes. During t imes of war, hor ses were ar med wit h
t hese proj ect ing nails on t heir hooves; t he nails provided
bet t er grip on slippery ground, and t hey enabled t he horse t o
inj ure or kill fallen enemy soldiers. I t was during t he 18t h
cent ur y t hat t he idiom began t o mean `t o bully someone.
What is the meaning of fashionably late?
( Dili p Saxena, Kanpur)
When you arrive at a part y `fashionably lat e, what you are
doing is making an appearance a few minut es aft er t he
scheduled t ime. You dont t urn up an hour or t wo aft er t he
event has begun, you are lat e onl y by a few minut es. This is
your way of t elling ot hers t hat you are a busy or popular
person. Most act ors and polit icians are fashionably lat e for
event s in order t o creat e t he impressi on t hat t hey were busy
elsewhere.
As expect ed, t he children ar rived fashionably lat e for t he
part y.
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What is the meaning of qualm?
( Murali Pillai, Thiruvanant hapuram)
The word rhymes wit h `calm and `ar m; t he `qu is like t he
`qu in `quit and `quick and t he `l is silent . I t is pronounced
`kwaam. This is one way of pronouncing t he word. When you
have qualms about somet hing, you have misgivings about it ;
you have t his feeling of doubt as t o whet her you are doing
t he right t hing or not .
The man had no qualms about st ealing from his own parent s.
What is the difference between squash and quash?
( B. Hamsa, Coimbat ore)
`Quash is a t erm which is used quit e frequent ly in legal
cont ext s t o mean `t o set aside or `annul. When a j udge, for
example, `quashes a convict ion, what he is doing is st at ing
offi cially t hat t he earlier decision t aken is no longer
accept able or vali d.
As expect ed, t he minist ers convict ion was quashed.
When you `quash somet hing, you forcibly suppress it .
The dict at or sent his army t o quash t he rebellion.
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When you `squash somet hing, you apply so much pressure
on it t hat you make it lose it s shape.
The chil dren had fun squashing all t he clay models.
Li ke t he word `quash, `squash can also mean t o forcibly
suppress somet hing.
What is the meaning of laissez-faire attitude?
( Madhav, Hyderabad)
First , let s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion of t his French
expression. The `lai is pronounced like t he word `lay, while
t he `sez in t he second syllable is pronounced like t he word
`say. `Faire sounds like t he word `fare. The word is
pronounced `lay- say fare wit h t he main st ress on `fare.
A `laissez- faire policy is one based on t he idea t hat t he
government should not int erfere in business and t rade
pract ices of individuals or companies. The expression means
`let do, and in t his cont ext it means t hat t he government
should let people in t rade and indust ry do as what t hey want
t o. Nowadays, t he expression has t aken on a general
meaning as well; it means non- int erference in t he affairs of
ot hers.
* I m afraid your laissez faire approach is likely t o creat e
more problems for t he universit y.
Does the word staycation exist?
( V. Balakrishnan, Trivandrum)
Yes, it does. The word was coined recent ly in t he Unit ed
St at es, and you dont have t o be a rocket scient ist t o figure
out t hat it is a combinat ion of t wo words: `st ay and
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`vacat ion. A `st aycat ion is a vacat ion you spend relaxing at
home or a place ver y close t o home.
* What some of our cricket players really want is a st aycat ion.
What is the meaning and origin of the expression toe the line?
( Madhu Teot ia, New Delhi)
This is an expression t hat has been ar ound for a very long
t i me. When you t oe t he line, you do what is expect ed of you.
You follow t he rules, and in general you behave in t he way
t hat people in power expect you t o. I n ot her words, you
conform. The expressi on `t oe t he mark has more or less t he
same meaning.
* The VC has said t hat hell suspend all t hose who dont t oe
t he line.
There are many explanat ions as t o t he ori gin of t his
expression. Accor ding t o some scholars, t he idiom comes
from t he world of at hlet ics. The `line referred t o in t he idiom
is t he st art ing line of a race. People t aking par t in a running
race were expect ed t o `t oe t he line; in ot her words, t hey
were expect ed t o keep t heir t oes on t he line or behind it .
Rules required t hat t heir t oes were `on t he mar k ( line) , not
over it . This is j ust one of t he explanat ions.
Is it okay to introduce oneself in the following manner? My name
is Prof. X.
( T. Balu, Chennai)
Many t eachers in I ndia have t he habit of int roducing
t hemselves in t his manner. A nat i ve speaker of English
200
wouldnt say, `My name is Pr of. Smit h. Remember,
`professor is t he desi gnat ion of a person; it is not a part of
his name. I f you would like people t o know t hat you are a
professor, t hen youll be bet t er off saying, `Im Prof. X,
inst ead of, `My name is Prof. X. Does our P.M say, `My name
is Prime Minist er Manmohan Singh?
What is the meaning of the word presently?
( T. Janaki, Chennai)
The word has several different meanings depending on t he
cont ext . When you say t hat some event will t ake place
`present ly, what you mean is t hat it will t ake place `short ly
or `soon.
* We were t old t hat t he Principal would be wit h us present ly.
I n American English, t he word is frequent l y used t o mean
`ri ght now or `current ly.
* * * * * *
What is the meaning and origin of pull the wool over someones
eyes?
( C. Ramamoort hy, Madurai)
This is an idiom which has been ar ound for many cent uries,
and it is most ly used in informal cont ext s. When someone
pulls t he wool over your eyes, he/ she succeeds in deceiving
you. The person does t his t o ensure t hat you dont figure out
what hes up t o.
Raj u pulled t he wool over t he old couples eyes, and ran
away wit h t heir savings.
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Before buying a car, please read t his ar t icle. Ot herwise, t he
salesperson will pull t he wool over your eyes.
Several cent uries ago, it was st andard pract ice in Eur ope and
America for bot h men and women t o wear wigs -
irrespect ive of whet her t hey were bald or not . These loosely
fit t ing hair pieces were usually made of wool. When t hieves
want ed t o st eal somet hing t hat a wig wearer was carr ying,
t hey sneaked up t o t he individual and lit erally pulled t he wig
( wool) over t he vict ims eyes. Temporarily blinded and
confused, t he vict im didnt know what was happening around
him. The t hief used t his opport unit y t o run away wit h what
t he vict im was carrying.
What is the origin of the word soccer?
( Abin Ben, Kollam)
According t o scholars, `soccer is a slang t erm coined by
universit y st udent s in England t o refer t o Associat ion
Foot ball. The word comes from t he alt erat ion of `assoc: t he
short form of `associat ion. I n t he beginning, t he word was
spelt `socca, lat er it became `soccer.
What is the meaning of eponymous?
202
( S. Deepak, Chennai)
First , let s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion of t he word. The `e
and t he `y are pronounced like t he `i in `it , `bit , and `hit ,
while t he `o is like t he `o in `cot , `hot , and `dot . The final
`ou is like t he `a in china. The word is pronounced `iponimes
wit h t he st ress on t he second syllable `pon.
`Ot hell o, `King Lear and `Macbet h are some of t he well-
known t ragedies writ t en by Shakespeare. The t it le is also t he
name of t he lead charact er in t he play. Similarly, we have
novels like `Winnie t he Pooh, `Robinson Crusoe and `Emma;
once again, t he t it le is based on t he name of t he her o or
heroine in t he novel. An eponymous charact er in a book or
play is one whose name also happens t o be t he t it le of t he
book or play.
What is the meaning of final nail in the coffin?
( S. Pooj a, Maveli kara)
A coffin as you know is somet hing t hat people are buried in.
I n t he old days, t he lid had t o be nailed in. The act of
hammering in t he final nail, signified t hat t he body inside t he
coffin was ready t o be buried. Therefore, when you say t hat
somet hing was t he final nail in t he coffin, what you mean is
t hat it is t he end of somet hing. I t could be an event t hat
causes harm or helps bring about t he downfall of somet hing
or someone.
* The report in t he newspaper is anot her nail in t he coffin of
t he corrupt Minist er .
What is the plural of aircraft?
( L. Raj eev, Chennai)
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`Aircraft is an uncount able noun; t he plur al t herefore is
`air craft , not `air craft s. The plural of aeroplane, on t he ot her
hand, is `aeroplanes. I n American English, t his word is spelt
`air plane.
* The Minist er said t hat t he government was planning t o buy
t hree more aircraft .
* The company was planning t o buy t wo more aeroplanes by
t he end of t he week.
Whats the difference between nonetheless and nevertheless?
( M. K. B. Nambiar, Mahe)
This is a quest ion t hat is frequent ly asked. I n t erms of
meaning, t here is no difference bet ween t he t wo; bot h are
generally used in formal cont ext s t o mean `in spit e of.
* The children had been up all night . Nonet heless, t hey
cont inued t o work on t he proj ect .
Some people are scared of the number 13. Is there a word for it?
( Balram Choudr y, Sedam)
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The word t hat you have in mind is `t riskaidekaphobia. I n
Greek, `t ris means `t hree, `kai means `and, and `deka, as
you have probably guessed, means `t en. There are several
ways of pronouncing t his word. The `i in t he first syllable is
like t he `i in `it and `bit , and t he following `kai rhymes wit h
`why and `bye. The `dek is pronounced like t he word `deck,
while t he `e t hat follows is like t he `a in china. The word is
pronounced `t riskydeckephobia.
What is the difference between damage and damages?
( K. Jagdeesh, Hyderabad)
You are driving your friends new car and as luck would have
it , you end up having an accident . You get out of t he car and
not ice t hat t he headlight s are broken and t he fender has
more or less come off. You have damaged your friends car;
in t his case, you have spoilt t he looks of t he vehicle. The
word `damage is most ly used wit h t hings. You can harm,
break or spoil somet hing.
* During t he recent eart hquake, t housands of buildings were
badl y damaged.
While cars, houses, and roads can be damaged, a per son, on
t he ot her hand, cannot be. You cannot say, `Roshni was
damaged in t he blast . The word, however, can be used wit h
t hings t hat are seen t o be a part of t he individual: organs,
reput at ion, et c.
* This will cert ainly damage t he reput at ion of t he Chief
Minist er.
I f your friend is angry wit h you and drags you t o court , t hen
`damages is what t he j udge will order you t o pay for having
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ruined t he new car . I n ot her words, it s t he money you will
pay your friend as compensat ion. This word is most ly used in
legal cont ext s.
How is the word tawdry pronounced?
( D. Kumar , Chennai)
The `aw in t he first syllable is pronounced like t he `aw in
`law, `claw and `flaw, while t he final `y is like t he `i in `bit ,
`hit , and `kit . The word is pronounced `t aw- dri wit h t he
st ress on t he first syllable.
When you refer t o someones clot hes as being t awdr y, what
you mean is t hat t hey look rat her cheap and gaudy; in ot her
words, t hey are rat her `t acky. I t suggest s t hat t he individual
has lit t le or no t ast e.
You cant expect me t o go ar ound wearing t his t awdry piece
of j eweller y.
The word can also be used wit h st ories and event s as well.
When you say t hat somet hing was `t awdr y what you mean is
t hat it cont ained rat her unpleasant det ails.
The lawyer wasnt keen on list ening t o his client s t awdry
mot ives.
Tawdr y act ually comes from t he name of St . Audrey, a queen
who ran away from her mean husband and st art ed her own
monast er y. Alt hough she had renounced ever yt hing, she had
one great weakness: she loved wearing beaut iful scar ves and
necklaces. When t he queen died and was lat er canonised, t he
local villager s decided t o have a fest ival in her honour.
Beaut iful scar ves were among t he it ems sold during t his
fest ival. These scarves were called `St Audreys lace. Wit h
t he passage of t ime, t he name was reduced t o `t awdrys
206
lace. This was fur t her short ened t o `t awdry. Lat er, t he
meaning of t he word changed as well; it no longer referred t o
somet hing beaut iful, but somet hing `cheap.
What is the meaning and origin of lock horns with?
( Sanj ana Sukumar , Tir uchi)
When you lock horns wit h someone, you ar gue or fight wit h
t hat part icular individual in a very det ermined way. Deer,
when t hey fight , invariably lock hor ns.
The t wo par t ies locked horns over t he recent price hike in
pet rol.
How is the word vignette pronounced?
( B. Arpit ha, Vishakapat nam)
The `g and t he final `e are silent . The first syllable rhymes
wit h t he words `win, `bin and `sin, and t he `et t in t he
second syllable is pronounced like t he word `yet . The word is
pronounced `vin- yet , wit h t he st ress on t he second syllable.
`Vi gnet t e comes from t he Old French `vigne meaning `vine.
Originally t he t er m was used t o refer t o t he drawings of vines
t hat one found at t he beginning of ever y chapt er of a print ed
book. Nowadays, t he word is used t o refer t o anyt hing: it can
be a short piece of writ ing, a phot ogr aph or a drawing which
capt ures t he t ypical charact erist ics of a person or t hing.
* You cer t ainly dont expect a cit y- bred girl t o writ e a vignet t e
of small- t own life.
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What is the meaning and origin of sledging?
( K. Siva Rama Rao, Bareilly)
This is a word t hat is most l y used in t he cont ext of cricket .
Nowadays, it is common pract ice for fielders t o t ry and
dist urb t he concent rat ion of bat smen. They achieve t his by
const ant ly t alking t o t hem or by abusing t hem. This pract ice
of t alking t o t he bat smen in order t o undermine t heir
confidence or dist ur b t heir concent r at ion is called sledging.
There are many people who believe t hat sledging should be
banned.
I an Chappell believes t hat t he t erm `sledge, a short ened
form of `sledgehammer, began t o be used in Aust ralia in t he
early 1960s. ( A sledgehammer is a heavy, long- handed
inst rument which is most ly used t o break st ones and drive in
wedges and st akes)
I n t hose days, a player using foul language in t he presence
of a lady was said t o have been as `subt le as a
sledgehammer - in ot her words, not subt le at all. Such a
person was oft en nicknamed `Sledge because Percy Sledges
song, `When a man loves a woman was popular at t hat t ime!
What is the meaning of touch?
( Maria Anj ani, Chennai)
First , let s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion of t his word. The `ou
in t he first syllable is like `oo in `cool, `pool, and `fool, while
t he following `ch sounds like t he `sh in `ship and `sheep.
The final `e is pronounced like t he `ay in `say and `bay. The
word is pronounced `t oo- shay wit h t he st ress on t he second
syllable. This is one way of pronouncing t he word.
`Touch is a word of French origin, and it is mainly used in
t he sport of fencing. I t comes from t he Old French `t ouchier
208
meaning `t o hit . When t wo people are fencing ( fight ing wit h
swords) , and one of t hem scores a hit , he immediat ely
shout s `t ouch, meaning t hat he has scored a point .
Nowadays, t he exclamat ion is used in everyday cont ext s as
well. When you are arguing wit h someone and t he individual
makes a good point against you, you can say `t ouch; by
doing so, you are acknowledging t hat he has scored a point
against you.
* You are saying t hat if he really loved me, he wouldnt be
asking for dowry. Touch!
What is the meaning of po-faced?
( V. Tara, Bangalore)
This is an informal expression most ly used in Brit ish and
Aust r alian English. The wor d `po rhymes wit h `no, `so, and
`go. When you say t hat someone is `po- faced, what you
mean is t hat t he individual looks very serious and rat her
unfriendly.
The po- faced principal didnt allow t he st udent s t o writ e t he
exam.
What is the meaning of epithet?
( G. Lavanya, Hyderabad)
Ori ginally, t he t erm meant a word or phrase at t ached t o t he
name of an individual. Take for example, `Solomon t he Wise
and `Alexander t he Great . I n bot h t he examples, what comes
aft er t he name is an epit het : `t he Wise and `t he Great .
Epit het s refer red t o t he most import ant qualit y of an
209
individual, and in t he old days, t hey were invariably used
aft er t he names of saint s. Lat er, epit het s began t o be used
as descript ive subst it ut es for t he names or t it les of
individual s.
We I ndians, for example, use t he epit het `Fat her of t he
Nat ion t o refer t o Mahat ma Gandhi. Not all epit het s,
however, are compliment ary; most , in fact , are derogat or y.
Nowadays t he t erm `epit het is used t o mean `t erm of abuse.
Har bhaj an was accused of hurling racial epit het s at Andrew
Symonds.
Does the word ta-ta actually exist?
( Pavit hra, Salem)
Yes, it does. Like t he word `cheerio, it is used most ly in
Brit ish English in infor mal cont ext s t o mean `goodbye. `Ta- t a
is most ly used by children. Americans do not use eit her `t a-
t a or `cheeri o.
When do you say good evening and good night?
( M. Gopalakrishnan, Chennai)
`Good evening is a way of saying `hell o t o someone in t he
evening. Some people st art using t his expression at 5 pm,
ot her s wait t ill 6 pm; t here seems t o be no fixed t ime as t o
when you st art wishing someone, `Good evening. When you
run int o someone at eleven oclock in t he night , you can st ill
wish him `Good evening. The st andard response t o `Good
evening is `Good evening. You nor mall y wish someone `Good
ni ght when you are t aking leave of someone in t he evening
- not in t he morning or aft ernoon! I t s anot her way of saying
`goodbye. People also say `Good ni ght before t hey hit t he
sack.
210
What is the difference between lightning and lightening?
( C. Ekambaram, Kancheepuram)
A heavy downpour is somet imes accompanied by t hunder
and light ning - it is t he flash of brilli ant light t hat we see in
t he sky. One cannot hear it , one can only see it ; what we
hear is `t hunder. `Light ening comes from t he word `light en.
When you at t empt t o `light en somet hing, you are at t empt ing
t o make it `light er ; in ot her words, you are t rying t o reduce
it s weight . This is j ust one of t he meanings of t he word.
How is the word alibi pronounced?
( M. Rangaswami, Trichy)
The `a in t he first syllable is like t he `a in `cat , `bat , and
`sat , while t he `i in t he second is like t he `i in `sit and `bit .
The final syllable is pronounced like t he word `by. The word
is pronounced `a- li- by wit h t he st ress on t he first syllable.
`Ali bi is a word most ly used in legal cont ext s. I n many
movies, when t he villain is accused of murdering someone,
his sleazy lawyer t ries t o prove t hat his client couldnt have
possibly commit t ed t he crime as he was elsewhere when t he
mur der was commit t ed. This evidence t hat people provide is
call ed an alibi.
* The husband has a cast iron alibi. He was not in t he count ry
when t he crime t ook place.
211
What is the meaning of rattle someones cage?
( T. Mukund, Pondicherry)
This is what chil dren somet imes do at t he zoo when t hey find
t he animal sound asleep inside t he cage. To wake up t he
animal and get it s at t ent ion, t he kids oft en pick up a st ick
and keep hit t ing t he cage wit h it . How does t he sleeping
animal react t o t his unwelcome rat t ling? I t usually get s
annoyed or angry. When you rat t le someones cage, you are
deliberat ely t r ying t o get t he person annoyed or angry. You
are at t empt ing t o get t he individuals at t ent i on.
* Shyamala t ried t o rat t le Harishs cage by asking him
quest ions about his former girl friend.
Punct ualit y is t he virt ue of t he bored. - Evel yn Waugh
Which is correct? Make or take a decision?
( Rex Arul, Geor gia)
You can `t ake a decision or `make a decision; bot h are
cor rect . Which one you decide t o use depends on which si de
of t he At lant ic you are from. `Make a decision, I underst and,
is mainly used by t he Americans, while t he English prefer
`t ake a decision. I n t erms of meaning, in most cont ext s,
t here is lit t le or no difference bet ween t he t wo.
What is the difference between fatal and fateful?
( Vivek Kumar, Nagpur)
The word `fat al is always associat ed wit h somet hing
negat ive; it s use suggest s deat h or disast er. I f you say t hat
212
your neighbour had a fat al heart at t ack last week, it means
t hat he died of a heart at t ack last week. Similarly, when you
say, `Ram st ruck t he robber a fat al blow, what you mean is
t hat Rams blow killed t he robber. A sent ence like, `Ganeshan
t ook t he fat al decision t o mar ry Rima, suggest s t hat
Ganeshans decision had disast rous consequences.
Unli ke t he word `fat al, `fat eful need not always be associat ed
wit h somet hing bad. `Fat eful means cont r olled by fat e, and
in t his case, t he result can be eit her good or bad. You may
make t he fat eful decision t o j oin t he police force: you may
have some luck, and quickly become a DI G, or you may end
up get t ing killed in a shoot out on your first day at work!
What is the meaning of take up the cudgels for someone?
( K. Panchapagesan, Mumbai)
The first syllable of `cudgels rhymes wit h `budge, `nudge,
and `grudge, and t he following `e is like t he `a in `china. The
word is pronounced `kaj elz wit h t he st ress on t he first
syllable. A `cudgel is a club; it is a short heavy st ick t hat is
oft en used as a weapon. When you t ake up t he cudgels for
someone, what you are doing is coming t o t he defence of an
individual. The expression can also mean t o argue st r ongly in
favour of someone or somet hing. I n Brit ish and Aust ralian
English, it is also possible t o say, `t o t ake up t he cudgels on
behalf of someone.
* The associat ion should t ake up t he cudgels for t he t wo men
who have been dismissed.
When you `t ake up t he cudgels against someone, you fight
against him.
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* I t s about t ime t hat we t ook up t he cudgels against crooked
polit icians.
How is the word aplomb pronounced?
( N. Bhavani, Er ode)
The `a is like t he `a in `china, and t he following `o sounds
like t he `o in `hot , `pot , and `cot . The final `b is silent , and
t he main st ress is on t he second syllable. The word is
pronounced `aplom. When you do somet hing wit h aplomb,
you do it in a relaxed manner and wit h a great deal of
confidence. The word is most ly used in formal cont ext s.
Is there a difference between I plan to re-cover the old sofa and
I plan to recover the old sofa?
( T. Harindranat h, Salem)
Yes, t here is. Somet imes, t he presence of a hyphen can bring
about a change in t he meaning of a word. I n t he first
sent ence, `re- cover suggest s t hat you are going t o cover t he
sofa again wit h somet hing. The old sofa may already have a
cover, but chances are you are not happy wit h it . So, you
int end t o put some ot her cover on it , and make it look good.
The word `recover , on t he ot her hand, suggest s t hat t he old
sofa is no longer wit h you. Perhaps you have lost it or
someone has st olen it ! What ever be t he case, you are now
planning t o find it and bring it home - t he place where it
belongs!
What is the difference between robber and thief?
( D. Vi ncent , Vel l or e)
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Of t he t wo, t he t hief is more subt le! When a t hief t akes
somet hing from you, you are not usually aware of it . You
dont even not ice his presence, and when he disappears wit h
somet hing t hat belongs t o you, he seldom leaves a t rail
behind him. He st eals wit hout at t ract ing t oo much at t ent ion
t o himself, and he is never violent .
* The t hief ent ered t he house and walked away wit h t he
lapt op.
A robber , on t he ot her hand, is someone who comes face t o
face wit h his vict im and forces him t o part wit h his valuables.
He t hreat ens his vict im wit h grievous inj uries, if he doesnt
do as he is t old. Unlike a t hief, a robber may resort t o
violence - he may kill or inj ure t he person being robbed.
What is the meaning of paddle ones own canoe?
( M. Ki shor e, Hyder abad)
This is an expressi on t hat is most ly used in American English.
A `canoe is a small boat which Nat i ve Americans made use
of. The `a in t he word is like t he `a in `china, and t he final
`oe is like t he `oo in `cool, `pool, and `fool The word is
pronounced `ke- noo wit h t he st ress on t he second syllable.
When you paddle your own canoe, what you are doing is
st eering your own boat . I n ot her words, you are chart ing
your own course. The expression `paddle your own canoe is
used t o mean sel f reliant or independent .
* List en Naresh, you are 25 years old. I t s t ime you st ar t ed t o
paddle your own canoe.
What is the past tense of quit?
215
( R. Ashw i ni , Secunder abad)
When t he verb is used t o mean `t o leave, it has t wo past
t ense forms - quit and quit t ed. For example, it is possible t o
say, `Jai quit / quit t ed his j ob last mont h. The word `quit t ed is
sel dom used in American English, and in Brit ish English, it is
limit ed t o formal st yles of writ ing. Many people regar d
`quit t ed as old fashioned. When t he verb is used t o mean `t o
st op, t hen `quit and not `quit t ed is used as t he past t ense
form. We say, `Yogesh has quit playing t ennis, not , `Yogesh
has quit t ed playing t ennis.
What is the meaning of flip out?
( M. N. Vi bha, Nagpur )
When someone `flips out , he loses cont r ol of himself; he
suddenly goes crazy. The expression is most ly used in
informal cont ext s.
* When Lina hear d t hat she hadnt been promot ed, she
flipped out .
Anot her expression which has t he same meaning is `flip ones
wig.
Amer ica believes in educat ion: t he average professor earns
more money in a year t han a professional at hlet e earns in a
whole week! - Evan Esar
S. UPENDRAN UPENDRANKYE@GMAI L.COM
What is the meaning of the expression to make sheep eyes at
someone?
216
( S. Raj endran, Chennai)
This is an expression t hat is not hear d very oft en nowadays;
it is considered rat her old fashioned. When you make sheep
eyes at someone, you make it rat her obvious t o t he
individual t hat you are at t ract ed t o him/ her . No one is really
sure about t he ori gin of t he expression.
Some of t he girls in class have been making sheep eyes at
t he new t eacher.
What is the difference between perhaps and maybe?
( M. Nirupama, Bangalore)
I n t erms of meaning, t here is no difference bet ween t he t wo;
bot h can be used t o mean `somet hing is possible. Of t he
t wo, `maybe is considered t o be informal. I t is frequent ly
hear d in speech, but is seldom used in formal st yles of
writ ing. `Maybe always comes at t he beginning of a clause;
`perhaps, on t he ot her hand, can come in different posit ions.
Maybe you should t ell t hem t hat you dont really like t he j ob.
Perhaps you should t ell t hem t hat you dont really like t he
j ob.
You shoul d perhaps t ell t hem t hat you dont really like t he
j ob.
Make sure t o maint ain t he dist inct ion bet ween `maybe and
`may be.
What is the meaning of the expression put past someone?
217
The expression is nor mally used t o show disapproval. When
you say t hat you wouldnt put somet hing past someone, what
you mean is t hat t he indi vidual in quest ion is quit e capable of
doing somet hing wrong; at least , somet hing which you dont
appr ove of. I wouldnt put it past Velu t o deny all knowledge
of t he incident .
What is the meaning and origin of Tinseltown?
( Anirudh, Houst on)
`Tinselt own is an uncompliment ar y t erm t hat has been used
t o refer t o Hollywood for quit e some t ime now. Tinsel
consist s of long st rips of shiny mat erial which people use t o
decorat e Christ mas t rees. I t is somet hing t hat glit t ers, but is
of no value. The word `t insel has been used in t he English
language for several cent uries t o describe somet hing t hat is
rat her showy and gaudy. When you refer t o Hollywood as
Tinselt own, what you mean is t hat alt hough t he place
glit t ers, like t he people in it , it does not have any subst ance.
On closer inspect ion, you realise it is merely some cheap foil
which falls apart at t he seams.
What is the difference between biannual and biennial?
( B. Laxman, Bangalore)
Bot h words are derived from t he same root : `bi meaning `t wo
or t wice and `annus meaning `year. The t wo words,
however, have very different meanings. An event t hat t akes
place biannually happens t wice a year; perhaps, every six
mont hs. A `biennial event , on t he ot her hand, t akes place
once in t wo years. The st ress in bot h words is on t he second
syllable.
* The company will be publishing it s biannual report next
week.
218
* The edit or is planning t o bring out t he new j ournal bienniall y
What is the meaning and origin of throw the hat into the ring?
( Ganesh, Varnasi)
When you `t hrow or `t oss your hat int o t he ring, what you
are doing is announcing t o t he world t hat you are ready t o
compet e wit h ot her people for somet hing - it could be for
t he post of t he Vice Chancellor , a place in Cabinet , et c.
The expression nowadays is most ly used in relat ion t o
poli t ics. When someone t hr ows his hat "in or "int o t he ring,
he is informing everyone t hat he is cont est ing in t he coming
elect ions. The expression comes from t he sport of boxing. I n
t he old days, when wearing a hat was common pract ice,
when a man t hrew his hat int o t he boxing ring, it implied t hat
he was challenging t he boxer; he was willing t o fight him.
What is the meaning of vox populi?
( T. Uma, Chennai)
First , let s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion of t his Lat in
expression. `Vox rhymes wit h `pox, `socks, and `fox, and
t he first syllable of `populi rhymes wit h `hop and `t op. The
foll owing `u sounds like t he `u in `useful and `unit ed, while
t he final `i is like t he `ee in `seed, `feed, and `need. I t is
also possible t o pronounce t he final `i like t he `y in `by and
`my.
The word is pronounced `vox popyulee wit h t he main st ress
on t he first syllable of `populi. The expression means `voice
of t he people, and it is oft en reduced t o `vox pop or `vox
pops.
219
The vox pop t echnique is nor mally used in radio and
t elevision broadcast ing. Every day on t he various news
channels, we see report ers int erviewing people on t he st reet .
They ask t he common man t o give t heir opinion about
somet hing. `What do you t hink of t he budget or `Do you like
Dhonis new hairst yle? This met hod of recording t he opinions
of people t al king informally in public places is called vox
populi or vox pop.
* To make t he programme int erest ing you need vox pop.
What is the meaning of serendipity?
( B. Suresh Kumar , Coimbat ore)
First , let s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion. The `e in t he first
syllable sounds like t he `e in `set , `bet , and `get , while t he
`e in t he second is like t he `a in `china. The `i in t he t hird
and four t h syllables and t he final `y are pronounced like t he
`i in `sit , `bit , and `hit . The word is pronounced `serendipit i,
wit h t he st ress on t he t hird syllable `di.
Somet imes, we make rat her fort unat e discoveries by sheer
accident . This lucky t endency t hat some people have t o find
int erest ing or valuable t hings by chance is called
`serendipit y. The word is considered formal, and is most ly
used in lit erary cont ext s.
* According t o t he art ist , some of t he best effect s in his
gar den have been t he result of serendipit y.
`Serendip is t he old Persian name for Sri Lanka. I n t he fair y
t ale, `The Three Princes of Serendi p, t he main charact ers
make wonder ful discoveries by chance. The American writ er,
Horace Walpole, coined t he word `serendipit y in 1754 in a
let t er he wrot e t o his friend.
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How is the word idiosyncrasy pronounced?
( R. Jaichandran, Bangalore)
The `i in t he first and second syllables and t he `y in t he final
syllable are like t he `i in `pit , `bit , and `hit . The `o in t he
second is like t he `o in `so, `no, and `go. The `syn is
pronounced like t he word `sing, and t he `a is like t he `a in
`china. The word is pronounced `idiosingkresi wit h t he main
st ress on `syn. There are ot her ways of pronouncing t he
word as well.
`I diosyncrasy is nor mall y used t o refer t o t he st range or
unusual habit s or charact erist ics of a person or t hing. This is
j ust one of t he meanings of t he word.
* He t wirls his moust ache whenever he get s nervous. This is
one of his idiosyncrasies.
* One of t he idiosyncrasies of t his car is t hat when you t urn
on t he light s, t he AC st ops working.
The word comes from t he Greek `idios meaning `peculiar or
`ones own, and `synkrasia meaning `t emperament . When
borr owed int o English, t he word was first used in t he medical
professi on t o mean `physical const it ut ion of an individual.
Whats the difference between envelope and envelop?
( M. Padma, Secunderabad)
221
The first is a noun and t he second a verb. An `envelope is
somet hing in which you send a let t er. Nowadays of course,
not many people use `envelopes because t hey prefer email.
When used as a noun, t he `en is pronounced `on and t he
foll owing `e is like t he `a in `china. The `o is like t he `o in
`so, `go, and `no, and t he final `e is silent . The st ress in t his
case is on t he first syllable. The word is pronounced
`onvel ope.
When used as a ver b, t he word means t o sur round or cover
somet hing complet ely. The `en is pronounced like t he word
`in, and t he following `e sounds like t he `e in `set , `bet , and
`get . The `o is like t he `a in `china, and t he main st ress is on
t he second syllable. The word is pronounced `invelep.
* The fog had enveloped t he air port . The pilot couldnt see a
t hing.
* The plan seems t o be enveloped in secrecy.
What is the meaning of the expression `on the fly'?
( G. Swaminat han, Coimbat ore)
This is an informal expression t hat is most ly used in
American English. When you do somet hing ` on t he fly' , you
do it very quickly, wit hout spending t oo much t ime t hinking
about it .
This is a serious mat t er. I don' t t hink you should be t aking
decisions on t he fly. The expression has anot her meaning as
well. I t means t he abilit y t o per form a t ask while you are on
t he move.
Padma' s new cell phone enables her t o check her email on
t he fly
222
What is the meaning of the expression `the proof of the pudding
is in the eating'?
( S. Sowmya, Chennai)
This is an expression t hat has been ar ound for several
cent uries. When you t ell someone t hat t he ` proof of t he
pudding is in t he eat ing' , what you mean is t hat in order t o
det ermine t he value of somet hing, one needs t o t est or t ry it .
You are t elling t he individual not t o pass j udgment on
somet hing wit hout examining t he fact s or evidence. You will
come t o know if t he pudding is good or bad, only aft er
t ast ing it . The expression is oft en reduced t o ` t he proof of
t he pudding' , and it has t he same meaning as ` don' t j udge a
book by it s cover' .
On paper, your suggest ions look great . But you know what
t hey say, t he proof of t he pudding is in t he eat ing.
S. UPENDRAN
What's the difference between `work for someone' and `work with
someone'?
( Prashant Chat urvedi, Gwalior)
When you ` work for' someone, you are his employee; you
have been hired by him t o do a j ob. This doesn' t necessarily
mean t hat t his individual knows you personally; and chances
are you may not be working along wit h him. Lot s of people
work for t he Prime Minist er; it doesn' t mean t hat Dr .
Manmohan Singh knows everyone personally.
How would you like t o work for Ambani? When you ` work
wit h' someone, you work along wit h t he person. He may or
223
may not be your boss. I n t his case, since t he t wo of you work
si de by side, you see him on a regular basis and know him
personally.
For my PhD, I would like t o work wit h Pr of. Nagalakshmi.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the difference between `alumni', and `alumnae'?
( G. Shant hi, Bangalore)
The ` alumni' of a universit y are t he st udent s who have
graduat ed from it ; t he word is used t o refer t o bot h male and
female st udent s. ` Alumnae' are t he female graduat es of a
universit y or college. The final ` ae' in ` alumnae' is
pronounced like t he ` ee' in ` fees' , ` bees' , and ` t rees' .
"I t hink God invent ed rain t o give dead people somet hing t o
complain about ." - David Brenner
S. UPENDRAN
How is the word aficionado pronounced?
( G. S. Moort hy, Nellore)
The `a in t he first syllable and t he `o in t he t hird are like t he
`a in `china; t he `i in t he second syllable sounds like t he `i in
`sit , `pit , and `hit . The `c is like t he `s in `si p, `set , and `sat
and t he `i is pronounced like t he `y in `yes and `yell. The `a
224
in t he four t h syllable is like t he `a in `bat h and `pat h, while
t he final `o is like t he `o in `so, `no, and `go. The word is
pronounced `afisyenaado, wit h t he st ress on t he fourt h
syllable `na. This is one way of pronouncing t he word. When
you say t hat someone is an aficionado of somet hing, what
you mean is t hat t he person is a great fan of it ; he is very
int erest ed in a par t icular subj ect , and knows a great deal
about it .
* My boss says t hat his wife is an afici onado of Thai food.
What is the response to How do you do?
( Namrat a, New Delhi)
I t depends on which side of t he At lant ic you are from. I n
Brit ish English, t he st andard response t o `How do you do? is
`How do you do? I n I ndia, when someone says `namast e, we
respond by saying `namast e. The same is t he case wit h `How
do you do? This is an expression t hat is normally used when
you are int roduced t o someone; once you have been
int roduced, you never use t he expression wit h t hat individual
again. The Brit i sh make a dist inct ion bet ween `How do you
do? and `How are you? The Americans, on t he ot her hand,
do not always maint ain t his dist inct ion. I t is common for
Americans t o say, `Fine, t hank you in response t o `How do
you do? I n I ndia, you will be bet t er off doing what t he Brit ish
do.
What is the meaning and origin of more sinned against than
sinning?
( S. Swaminat han, Mysore)
225
This is an expression made popular by Shakespeare. I n
movies, we somet imes find t he hero t aking t he law int o his
own hands when t he legal syst em fails him. The villain kills
his family members, but t he police and t he court fail t o put
t he man behind bars. The hero t hen decides t o t ake mat t ers
int o his own hands, and goes around killing all t hose close t o
t he villain. By doing t his, he is commit t i ng a wrong, but he
feels t hat he has t he right t o do what he is doing because a
great er wrong has been done t o him. He feels t hat he is t he
vict im. When you say t hat someone is more sinned against
t han sinning, what you mean is t hat t he individual is less
guilt y t han t hose who have wronged him.
I t s t rue she shot t he polit ician in cold blood. But when you
hear t he ent ire st ory, youll feel she was more sinned against
t han sinning.
How is the word extempore pronounced?
( K. Hariharan, Kozhikode)
The word consist s of four syllables and not t hree. The first
syllable `ex sounds like t he `ex in `expect , `exci t e, and
`expel. The following `e is like t he `e in `t est , `pest , and
`best ; t he `o is like t he `a in `china. The final `e is like t he `i
in `pit , `bit and `sit . The word is pronounced `ext emperi wit h
t he st ress on t he second syllable. When you give a speech
`ext empore, you give it wit hout reall y preparing for it . I t s an
imprompt u speech, and it s usually given wit hout t he help of
any not es.
* You must be out of your mind if you t hink I m going t o
speak ext empore.
226
What is the meaning of the expression to separate the sheep
from the goats?
( S. Naik, Pune)
This is an expressi on t hat comes from t he Bible. When you
say t hat you are going t o separat e t he sheep from t he goat s,
what you mean is t hat you are going t o separat e t he good
from t he bad. I t is also possible t o say, "sort out t he sheep
from t he goat s. These t wo expressions have t he same
meaning as "t o separat e t he wheat from t he chaff.
What is the difference between sojourn and journey?
( T. Kart hik, Hyderabad)
When you t ake a j ourney, you t ravel from one place t o
anot her. The dist ance may be covered in a mat t er of few
hours, or it may t ake several days or mont hs. A j ourney may
or may not involve a brief halt or st op somewhere al ong t he
way. The original meaning of `j ourney was a days t ravel.
* The t wo drove like cr azy and complet ed t he j ourney in five
hours.
As for t he word `soj ourn, first , let s deal wit h t he
pronunciat ion. The `o in t he first syllable is like t he `o in
`hot , `got , and `pot . The `j t hat follows is like t he `j in `j am,
`j ack, and `j ob; t he final `ourn is like t he `urn in `burn and
`t urn. The st ress is on t he first syllable `so. A `soj our n is a
not a j ourney of any kind. When you soj ourn somewhere,
you st ay in t hat place for a short while; t he st ay is usually
t emporary.
* Dravid soj ourned at his brot hers home on his way t o
Mumbai.
227
The word is most ly used in formal cont ext s.
Is it okay to introduce myself in the following manner? I am Mr.
Thomas.
( Yesudasan Thomas, Kollam)
When James Bond int roduces himsel f, he says, `My name is
Bond. James Bond. He doesnt say `My name is Mr. Bond.
Mr. James Bond. We oft en hear I ndian men int roduce
t hemselves as `Mr. Sharma, `Mr. Rao, et c. When you
int roduce yourself, t here is no need for you t o include `Mr.
before your name. Nat ive speakers of English do not include
t he word `Mr. when t hey int roduce t hemselves.
What is the meaning of modus vivendi?
( C. K. Arj un, Bangalore)
First , let s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion of t his Lat in
expression. The `m..o..d rhymes wit h `load, `showed and
`t oad, and t he `u t hat follows is like t he `a in `china. The
first `i in `vivendi is like t he `i in `kit , `bit and `sit , while t he
second is like t he `ee in `see, `bee, and `fee. The `e in `ven
sounds like t he `e in `set , `bet and `pet . The main st ress is
on t he second syllable of `vivendi. This is j ust one of t he
ways of pronouncing t he word.
A `modus vivendi is a pract ical ar rangement which allows
t wo people who have a difference of opinion about
228
somet hing, t o work or live t oget her while wait ing for t heir
disput e t o be set t led. This arrangement is usually t emporary.
I n order t o complet e t he proj ect on t ime, a modus vivendi
was achieved bet ween t he t wo count ries.
What is the origin of the word magazine?
( L. Kanchana, Secunderabad)
The word magazine has several different meanings. A
publicat ion cont aining art icles, ads, st ories and phot ographs
t hat comes out on a regular basis is called a magazine. The
par t of t he gun which cont ains t he bullet s is also called a
magazine. How did t his word acquir e such different
meanings? According t o scholars, t he word `magazine comes
from t he Arabic `makhzan meaning `st orehouse. The original
magazine was a place where grain and ot her goods were
st ored. I guess t his explains why t he part of t he gun which
cont ains t he bullet s is called a magazine - it is a st orehouse
for t he ammunit ion. Did you know t hat before t he 19t h
cent ur y even ordinary books were called `magazines? Aft er
all , books are a st orehouse of knowledge, arent t hey? I t was
onl y in t he 19t h cent ury t hat t he word `magazine began t o
refer t o periodicals.
What is the difference between missive and letter?
( M. Ganesh, Chennai)
First , let s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion. The first syllable of
`miss is pronounced like t he word `miss, while t he second
sounds like t he `ive in `massive and `passive. The st ress is
on t he first syllable. A missive is a longish let t er, oft en
offi cial, sent by someone. I t is usually sealed and cont ains
229
`pri vat e infor mat ion. The word is considered rat her old
fashioned, and is most l y used in lit erar y cont ext s; in informal
cont ext s, it is used humorously.
Aft er t he meet ing, t he Ambassador sat down and wrot e a five
page missive t o t he President .
The word `missive comes from t he Lat in `missus meaning `t o
send; missives are usually sent t o individuals. `Let t er, on
t he ot her hand, is a general t erm and it can be sent t o
individuals, companies, organisat ions, et c. I t may deal wit h
business or privat e mat t er s.
What is the meaning of the expression thanks but no thanks?
( I shan Malik, New Delhi)
I f someone offers you somet hing, and you respond by saying
`t hanks, but no t hanks, what you mean is `I appreciat e t he
offer, but I decline. The expressi on is one way of refusing or
t urning down an invit at ion; it is always used t o convey a
rej ect ion.
When Rahul offered t o hel p me wit h t he proj ect , I t old him,
`Thanks, but no t hanks.
What is the meaning and origin of take a leaf out of someones
book?
230
( R. Venkat , Salem)
When you t ake a leaf out of someones book, what you are
doi ng is copying or imit at ing t he individual. You are using
him as a model and are following his example hoping t hat
you will gain somet hing by t his.
* I t ook a leaf out of Surendrans book and st art ed submit t ing
my assignment s on t ime.
The wor d `leaf here refers t o a page from a book. Therefore,
when you t ake a leaf from someones book, you are copying
what t he individual has writ t en. The original meaning of t his
idiom was t herefore t o `plagiarise. Nowadays, t he expression
has lost it s negat ive connot at ion and is used only in a
posit ive sense: t o imit at e someone.
What is the meaning of yore?
( James George, Bhilai)
When it comes t o pronunciat ion, `yore and `your are
pronounced t he same way. But t here t he similarit y ends.
While `your is used in almost all cont ext s, `yore is
considered t o be rat her old fashioned and lit erary, and is
t herefore rest rict ed in it s use. I t is most ly used in cer t ain
fixed expressions like `of yore. I t means `long ago.
* The old women spent t heir t ime t alking about t he days of
yore.
* This huge building was used as a st able in days of yore.
What is the difference between immoral and amoral?
( G. Janaki, Thrissur)
231
When you say t hat someone is `immoral what you mean is
t hat t he person does a lot of t hings t hat are not morally
accept able; he does t hings t hat are posit i vely wrong. When
t he word is used wit h people, it is always used t o show
disappr oval. Perhaps t he individual swindles people, has
ext ramarit al affairs, et c.
* What you are doing would be considered t o be immoral by
most people.
A person who is `amoral does not know t he difference
bet ween right and wrong, and he doesnt really care whet her
what he does is morally right or wrong. He is not concerned
wit h morals; he is out si de t he spher e of moralit y. Unlike t he
word `immoral, `amoral is not always used t o show
disappr oval.
* According t o t he crit ic, t he hero had an amoral at t it ude
t owar ds murder.
What is the meaning of jejune?
( M. V. Pat t abhiraman, Secunderabad)
First , let s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion. The `e in t he first
syllable is like t he `i in `bit , `fit and `kit , and t he following
syllable is pronounced like t he word `June. The st ress is on
t he second syllable. The word is most ly used in formal
cont ext s t o show disapproval. When you say t hat someone is
`j ej une, what you mean is t hat t he person is rat her childish
or unsophist icat ed. When used wit h t hings, t he word means
unint erest ing.
* I ve been list ening t o j ej une lect ures all day.
232
The word comes from t he Lat in `j ej unus meaning `fast ing or
hungry. When it was first used in English, `j ej une meant
`going wit hout food.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the difference between collaborate and corroborate?
( B. Nandini, Chennai)
The word `collaborat e comes from t he Lat in `collaborare
meaning t o `labour t oget her. Therefore, when you
`collaborat e wit h someone, you work wit h t hat individual for
a pur pose - for example, you could collaborat e wit h someone
on a proj ect .
* We will be collaborat ing wit h an American company t o
develop t he product .
When you `corroborat e somet hing, you provide proof or
evidence t hat support s what you or someone else has said.
The word is frequent ly used in legal cont ext s.
* Some of t he research findings seem t o corr oborat e my
fat hers t heory.
Some people are scared of taking injections. Is there a word for
it?
233
( P. Pandey, Pune)
`Needle phobia is an expression t hat is commonl y used by a
lot of people. Doct ors, on t he ot her hand, have anot her name
for t his fear . They refer t o t he ext reme and irrat ional fear of
inj ect ions as `t r ypanophobia. The `y in t he first syllable is
like t he `i in `bit , `hit , and `sit , and t he following syllable is
pronounced like t he word `pan. I t is also possible t o
pronounce t he `a in t he second syllable like t he `a in `china.
The `o is like t he `o in `go, so and `no, and t he final
syllables are pronounced like t he word `phobia. The main
st ress is on `pho. These are j ust t wo of t he ways of
pronouncing t he word.
Is it okay to say Write me?
( L. Devaki, Chennai)
Careful users of t he language would ar gue it s wrong. They
would maint ain t hat it should be `writ e t o me. But t he fact of
t he mat t er is t hat nat i ve speakers of English do say `Writ e
me. I t is used very frequent ly in American English.
What is the meaning of not to put too fine a point on it?
( Sridhar, Tirunelveli)
This is an expression t hat you normally use when you wish t o
speak your mind, and you are not really worried about how
t he ot hers ar ound you will react . I t is a polit e way of saying,
`Excuse me for being blunt , but t his is what I t hink.
Your dissert at ion, not t o put t oo fi ne a point on it , should be
t hrown int o t he dust bin.
234
Our college t eams per formance, not t o put t oo fine a point
on it , was t errible.
Whats the difference between take care of and take care?
( K. Ashwin, Hyderabad)
You usually `t ake care of somet hing or someone. I n t his
case, you look aft er a person or t hing.
I t s your dut y t o t ake care of your old parent s.
When you t ell someone t o `t ake care, what you mean is t hat
you want t he person t o be careful.
Tell t he children t o t ake care when t hey cross t he busy road.
Nowadays, lot s of people use t he expression `t ake care t o
mean goodbye. I t is most ly used in infor mal cont ext s.
Look at t he t ime! I ve got t o get going. You t ake care.
How is the word malfeasance pronounced?
( J. Adit ya, Kanpur)
The `a in t he first syllable is like t he `a in `cat , `bat and
`sat , t he `ea is like t he `ee in `bees, `sees and `cheese. The
`s sounds like t he `z in `zoo and `zi p, and t he `a t hat follows
is like t he `a in `china. The final `ce is like t he `s in `sip and
235
`sit . The word is pronounced `mal- fee- zens, wit h t he st ress
on t he second syllable.
`Malfeasance is a legal t erm and it is most ly used in formal
cont ext s t o refer t o t he dishonest and illegal behaviour of
public officials.
Several cases of malfeasance by t he higher ups wit hin t he
par t y were never invest igat ed.
What is the difference between among and amid?
( Anant ha Padmanabhan, Sri Rangam)
The t wo are not synonymous; `among is considered less
formal of t he t wo. Books on English usage maint ain t hat t he
word `among shoul d be used when it is followed by plural
count able nouns or by a word `indicat ing a separable group of
people or t hings: congregat ion, cr owd, et c.
The priest walked among his congregat ion, shaking hands
wit h a few.
Ami d, on t he ot her hand, is mainly used wit h uncount able
nouns. I t suggest s t hat you are surrounded by somet hing
t hat is usually inseparable.
The t hree robbers escaped amid t he confusion t hat followed
t he fire.
What is the difference between climate and weather?
( Lena Saravanan, Tir uchengode)
Take a look out side t he window. I s it bright and sunny or is it
raining? I s it a hot day or a cold one? I f you are referring t o
t he condit i ons as t hey exist right now, t hen you are t alking
236
about t he weat her . The weat her is somet hing t hat is
happening out side right now; it is what we experience every
day. On t he various news channels, met eorologist s give us a
weat her forecast ; t hey do not provi de us wit h a `climat e
forecast . The t erm `weat her is nor mall y used t o refer t o
condit ions at a cert ain t ime or over a shor t peri od of t ime.
What s t he weat her like t oday? What s t he weat her like in
Hyderabad during t he summer? Cli mat e, on t he ot her hand,
refers t o t he average weat her in a part icular place over a
long period of t ime - usually 30 years or more. Scient ist s
are now t alking about t he climat e change t hat has t aken
place. I n some places in I ndia, t he average t emperat ure is
much higher t han what it was 40 or 50 years ago.
What is the meaning of honorificabilitudinitatibus?
( L. Kavit ha, Chennai)
According t o scholars, t his is t he longest word used by
Shakespeare in any of his plays. The word is used by Cost ard
in Act V of `Loves Labours Lost . The word means `st at e of
being able t o achieve honours. People who believe t hat it
was Francis Bacon who wrot e all of Shakespeares plays
ar gue t hat t he word `honorificabilit udinit at ibus is an anagr am
for "Hi ludi, F. Baconis nat i, t uit i orbi. I t means, "These
plays, F. Bacons offspring, are preser ved for t he world.
What is the meaning of mind-blowing?
( Yogni Chauhan, Mumbai)
This is an expression t hat has been ar ound since t he 1960s.
During t his period, people somet imes t ook drugs which
237
produced hallucinat ory effect s; t hese drugs were called
`mind- blowing drugs. Wit h t he passage of t ime, any
experience which affect ed t he mind or emot ions of an
individual began t o be called `mind- blowing. Nowadays, t he
expression is used t o mean `overwhelming, `shocking, or
`ast onishing.
* Trekking t hrough t he forest all alone was a mind- blowing
experience.
Can a woman be called handsome?
( G. Jaikumar, Bangalore)
Yes, t he word can be used wit h women as well. When you
call a woman handsome, you are not making fun of her; you
are, in fact , paying her a compliment . What you mean is t hat
she is very at t ract ive. Unli ke a woman who is `pret t y, a
handsome one is not built along very delicat e lines. She is
somewhat big built and her feat ures are usually lar ge and
t here is somet hing about her which suggest s st rengt h of
charact er. She has a st rong digni fied appearance. The word
is only used wit h women and not wit h young girls.
* Revat hi is an ext remely handsome woman wit h a very shar p
mind.
The word can also be used t o refer t o obj ect s, such as
gar dens and buildings. For example, when you say t hat a
buil ding is handsome, what you mean is t hat it is large and
at t ract ive in an impressive sort of way.
What is the meaning of stand something on its head?
( Vikramsingh Misal, Kolhapur)
238
When you `st and or `t urn somet hing on it s head, you t urn
everyt hing upside down. You t reat an argument in a t ot ally
different way; you make an idea or belief t he opposit e of
what it was before. The at t empt here is t o get people t o t hink
different ly.
* The speaker t ook t he accept ed view t hat sons wer e bet t er
t han daught ers and st ood t he argument on it s head.
What is the difference between peep and peek?
( I . Mahendravarman, Chennai)
I n cert ain cont ext s, bot h words have t he same meaning.
When you `peek at somet hing or `peep at somet hing you
t ake a look at it very quickly; t his is oft en done secret ly and
quiet ly. I t is also possible t o peek/ peep at someone.
* I would like t o have a peep/ peek at t he new play t hat she is
writ ing.
The word `peep is also used in cert ain informal expressions.
For example, if you say t hat you dont want t o `hear a peep
out of someone, what you mean is t hat you dont want t he
individual t o say anyt hing or make any noise.
* We became rat her wor ried because we hadnt heard a peep
from t hem.
What is the difference between `while' and `whilst'?
( A. Reema, Bangalore)
The ` w..h..i..l' in ` whilst ' is pronounced like t he word
` while' , and t he ?nal ` st ' sounds like t he ` st ' in ` st upid' and
` st ump' . As far as t he meaning is concerned, t here is no
difference bet ween ` while' and ` whilst ' . According t o some
239
scholars, ` while' is a much older word t han ` whilst ' . The
word ` whilst ' is not used in American English; in Brit ish
English, however , it is most ly used in formal cont ext s. I t is
considered lit erary and somewhat old fashioned by many
people. What is t he meaning of ` cowed int o' ?
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of `cowed into'?
( G. Laxman, Vij ayawada)
The word ` cow' can be used bot h as a noun and a ver b.
When used as a verb, t he word means t o fright en someone
int o doing somet hing t hat you want t hem t o. You achieve t his
by using t hreat s or violence. * Prema needed t he j ob, so she
was cowed int o doing t hings she didn' t want t o.
S. UPENDRAN
Is there a difference between `grant me leave for Friday' and
`grant me leave on Friday'?
( Ravishankar, Chennai)
There is a big difference bet ween t he t wo. When you say
"gr ant me leave for Friday", what you mean is t hat you
would like t o have Fri day off. I n ot her words, you would like
your boss t o t ell you t hat you needn' t come t o work on
Fri day. The second sent ence, "grant me leave on Friday" is
rat her ambiguous. I t could mean t hat you want your boss t o
inform you on Fri day t hat you have been grant ed leave. You
240
don' t want him t o t ell you t oday it self as t o whet her you have
been given leave or not . You want him t o give you t he good
news on Fri day.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of `mutatis mutandis'?
( K. Vij ayakumar, Tr ichy)
First , let ' s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion. The ` u' in bot h words
is pronounced like t he ` oo' in ` cool' , ` pool' , and ` fool' , and
t he ?nal ` i' is like t he ` i' in ` hip' , ` dip' , and ` ship' . The ` a' in
t he second syllable of ` mut at is' is like t he ` a' in ` ask' ,
` pat h' , and ` t ask' ; while t he ` a' in ` mut andis' is like t he ` a'
in ` ant ' , ` pant s' , and ` st and' . The main st ress is on t he
second syllable of ` mut andis' . This is j ust one of t he ways of
pronouncing t he word.
` Mut at is mut andis' is a Lat in expression frequent ly used in
economics and law. I t s lit eral meaning is "t hings being
changed t hat have t o be changed". This can be int er pret ed t o
mean "t he necessar y changes having been made". For
example, if you were t o say, "The same agreement will,
mut at is mut andis, be given t o each manager in t he
organisat ion," what you mean is t hat t he agreement t hat will
be given t o each manager will be more or less t he same. The
onl y change will be t he name - each agreement will cont ain
t he name of a different manager.
How is the word `phlegmatic' pronounced?
( S. Vibha, New Delhi)
241
The ` ph' in t he ?rst syllable sounds like t he ` f' in ` ?sh' , ` feel'
and ` full' ; t he ` l..e..g' t hat follows sounds like t he word
` leg' . The following syllable is pronounced like t he word
` mat ' , and t he ?nal ` ic' is like t he ` ic' in ` picnic' and
` fant ast ic' . The main st ress is on t he second syllable ` mat ' ;
t he word sounds like ` ?egmat ic' .
The word is normally used t o t alk about an individual' s
t emperament . When you say t hat someone is phlegmat ic,
what you mean is t hat person remains cool under pressure.
He remains unemot ional.
* As expect ed, t he champion remained phlegmat ic t hroughout
t he t ense ?ft h set .
"Opini ons are like feet . Everybody' s got a couple, and t hey
usually st ink." - Jim Slat t ery
What is the meaning of finale?
( K. A. N. Srikar, Vizianagaram)
The word `finale consist s of t hree syllables. The `i in t he first
syllable and t he `e in t he final syllable are like t he `i in `hit ,
`bit and `kit ; t he `a is like t he `a in `pat h and `bat h. The
st ress is on t he second syllable `na. The word is pronounced
`finaali. The last it em in a st age show can be referred t o as a
finale; so can t he final movement of a musical composit ion.
* The fireworks were t he grand finale of t he t en- day event .
Is it OK to say discuss about something?
( Savit ri Sekhar, Allepey)
242
Alt hough we oft en hear people say, `I would like t o discuss
about t he problem, it is not grammat ically accept able. You
usually `discuss somet hing, you do not `discuss about
somet hing. The word `discuss is not followed by `about .
* We will not discuss what happened at t he meet ing.
The word `discussion, on t he ot her hand, can be followed by
`about .
* There will be no discussion about what happened at t he
meet ing.
What is the origin of denim?
( J. Bharat h, Thanj avur)
When you hear t he word `denim, you immediat ely t hink of
j eans. This st urdy clot h t hat bot h young and old wear
nowadays was originally made in t he t own of `Nimes in
France. I underst and t he name is pronounced like t he word
`neem. The t ough clot h mat erial when it was int roduced was
not called `denim but `serge; it was oft en referred t o as
`ser ge de Nimes, meaning `ser ge of Nimes. Wit h t he
passage of t ime, t he name of t he clot h was short ened t o
`denim. Sailor s from `Genoa, a seaport in I t aly, made pant s
from denim. Since t he t rousers last ed for a very long t ime,
t hey were affect i onat ely called `Genoese. The name was
lat er short ened t o `geans, from which we get t he word
`j eans.
What is the meaning of crony capitalism?
( Dhruba Basu, Kolkat a)
`Crony capit alism is a pej orat ive t erm used t o refer t o t he
cor rupt business dealings carried out by government officials
243
in a capit alist economy; it refers t o t he success in business
based on a close relat ionship bet ween businessmen and
government officials. The word `cr ony means `friend; it is
generally used t o show disapproval. I f you were t o refer t o
Prakash as `Dilips crony, t he implicat ion is t hat you do not
appr ove of Prakash. What is it t hat polit icians nor mall y do
when t hey become minist er s? They hel p t heir family
members and friends make money by awar ding t hem
government cont ract s, legal permit s, special t ax breaks, et c.
This favourit ism t hat t hey show t owards family members and
friends is called `crony capit alism.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of square peg in a round hole?
( K. Aravind, Srirangam)
I f you are working for an organisat i on, and you say t hat you
feel li ke a square peg in a round hole, what you mean is t hat
you feel like a t ot al misfit . You and t he ot hers around you
sense t hat you dont belong t here. The expression can also
be used t o refer t o someone who is unsuit ed for t he t ype of
j ob t hat he/ she is act ually doing.
* I ve always felt like a square peg in a round hole in t his
universit y. I t hink it s about t ime I resigned.
What is the meaning and origin of `smoke and mirrors'?
( Khadar, Tirupat hi)
When you say t hat somet hing is ` smoke and mirrors' what
you mean is t hat it is a lie; it is a dist ort ion of t he t r ut h. I t is
a t rick employed by someone t o deceive or confuse people.
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By drawing at t ent ion away from t he t rut h, an at t empt is
made t o make people believe t hat t he sit uat ion is bet t er t han
it act ually is. When you say t hat a polit ici an' s ar gument is
` smoke and mirrors' , what you mean is t hat it lacks
subst ance.
* Smoke and mirr ors made t he st ock mar ket look healt hier
t han what it really was.
The expression comes from t he world of magic. When a
magician per forms his t ricks on st age, he oft en makes use of
smoke and mirr ors t o make t he impossible appear possible;
he uses smoke t o divert t he audience' s at t ent ion.
S. UPENDRAN
Can the word `etc.' be used with people?
( S. Venkat esan, Madurai)
The Lat in expression ` et cet era' , which is normally
abbreviat ed t o ` et c. ' , means ` and ot her t hings' and ` so on' .
As writ ers or speakers, we use it when we don' t wish t o
include everyt hing on a list . For t he drawing compet it ion on
Sunday, st udent s are expect ed t o bring t heir own pencil,
paper, et c. ' I n such cases, we expect t he reader/ list ener t o
underst and t hat t he list is incomplet e and t hat he should
supply t he missing informat ion on his own. I t is very
common nowadays t o hear people include ` et c.' aft er t he
names of people as well: ` I ran int o Ram, Geet ha, Thiru, et c.
at t he club yest er day. ' Books on English usage suggest t hat
such sent ences are unaccept able. According t o scholars,
since ` et cet era' ends wit h an ` a' , t he word is neut er in
gender; t herefore, it can onl y be used wit h t hings and not
245
wit h people. The Lat in expression ` et al.' , meaning ` and
ot her s' , should be used aft er t he names of people.
* We are expect ing Sharukh et al. t o be present at t he
meet ing.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of `urban legend'?
( Abhishek Bankal gi, Sedam)
These are very oft en widely circulat ed st ories t hat are passed
on from one person t o anot her. Oft en, t hese are ver y
fri ght ening st ories which are supposed t o have reall y
happened; whet her t hey did or not , ur ban legends are meant
t o be believed. The st ories have been t ol d and ret old so
many t imes t hat t hey have become a part of popular
myt hology. A ver y popular ur ban legend in t he U.S is t hat
t here are alli gat ors living in sewers. Anot her one is t hat t here
is always a killer hiding in t he back seat of a car.
What is the difference between theism and deism?
( R. Anant hanarayana, Hyderabad)
First , let s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion. The `e in bot h words
is pronounced like t he `ee in `feel, `peel, and `heel. The final
`ism is like t he `ism in `prism, `mat erialism, and `cr onyism.
The st ress in bot h cases is on t he first syllable. `Theism
comes from t he Greek `t heos, and `deism comes from t he
Lat in `deus. Bot h words mean `god. There are t wo different
246
views about t he creat ion of t he world and Gods role in it .
Deism is t he belief t hat God creat ed t he world, and once He
complet ed t he t ask, He decided t o call it a day! `Theism, on
t he ot her hand, is t he belief t hat God not onl y creat ed t he
world, but also cont inues t o play an act ive role in t he running
of it . I n ot her words, He int ervenes in t he life of human
beings; He is not a mere observer . This is j ust one of t he
differences.
What is the meaning of hunker down?
( Bhaskar Gupt a, Aligar gh)
This expression, most ly used in informal cont ext s, has
several different meanings. When you `hunker down, you sit
on your heels; you squat .
The scout s hunkered down around t he campfire and drank
hot soup.
The expression can also be used t o mean `t o t ake shelt er .
The blizzard compelled us t o hunker down in a cave for a
couple of days.
During a st rike, if one of t he t wo par t ies `hunkers down, it
very st ubbornly st icks t o a posit ion. The part y remains
adamant and refuses t o make any compromise.
As t he management hunkered down, unit y among t he union
members began t o cr umble.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning and origin of pull chestnuts out of the fire?
( V. R. Kri shnaswami, Chennai)
247
When you pull chest nut s out of t he fire, you end up doing
someone elses dirt y wor k. The ot her person is in such a t i ght
spot t hat you feel compelled t o help him, oft en put t ing
your self in danger. Anot her expression t hat has more or less
t he same meaning is `cat s paw.
As expect ed, Druvs rich parent s pulled chest nut s out of t he
fire for him once again.
The expression has it s origins in a fable. I n t he st ory, a cat
and a monkey are sit t ing ar ound a fire wat ching t heir mast er
roast chest nut s. The monkey want s t o eat t he nut s, but he
doesnt want t o pull t hem out of t he fire because doing so
would burn his hands. While t he mast er is away, t he cunning
monkey convinces t he poor cat t o do his dirt y work for him.
The cat scoops out t he nut s one by one and in t he process
bur ns his paw. The selfish monkey eat s all t he nut s leaving
not hing for t he silly cat .
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of mala fide?
( Jayachit hra, Nellore)
First , let s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion. The first `a sounds
like t he `ay in `may, `bay, and `hay, while t he second is like
t he `a in `china. The `i is pronounced like t he `y in `my and
`by and t he final `e is like t he `i in `fit , `kit , and `pit . The
word sounds like `mayle faidi, and t he main st ress is on `fi.
This is j ust one of t he ways of pronouncing t he word.
The expression comes from Lat in; `mal means `bad and
`fide means `fait h. `Mala fide means in bad fait h. A mala fide
act ion is one t hat is perfor med wit h dishonest int ent ; a
person pur posel y at t empt s t o cheat or deceive you. The
opposit e of `mala fide is `bona fide meaning `in good fait h.
248
What is the meaning and origin of foot the bill?
( S. Mukesh, Lucknow)
I f you t ake someone t o a rest aurant and t ell him t hat you are
going `t o foot t he bill, what you mean is t hat you are going
t o pay t he bill.
Im willing t o come along if you promise t o foot t he bill.
The `foot in t he expression has not hing t o do wit h our feet .
I n t he 15t h cent ur y, when a wait er asked you t o `foot t he
bill, what he want ed you t o do was t o add up t he figures and
make sure t hat t he t ot al at t he bot t om or t he foot of t he bill
was correct . The expression `foot up, which is no longer in
use, was used t o mean t o `count or `add up. I t was only in
t he 19t h cent ury t hat t he expression `foot t he bill began t o
mean what it does t oday.
What is the meaning of pig out?
( Pooj a Pat el, Ahmedabad)
The pig is an animal t hat is not associat ed wit h anyt hing
good. When you call someone a `pig, you mean one of t wo
t hings: he eat s a lot and is t herefore ext remely fat , or he is
very dirt y. The expression `t o pig out is normally used in
informal cont ext s t o mean, `t o eat or drink t oo much.
* On Sundays, t he st udent s from t he host el go t o t he cit y and
pig out on pizzas and burgers.
Can the word ward be used to refer to ones children?
( C. V. Geet ha, Hyderabad)
249
I n I ndia, many people do refer t o t heir children as t heir
wards. Nat i ve speakers of English, however, wouldnt do t his.
They would consi der `ward t o be a legal t erm; a word t hat is
nor mall y used t o refer t o a per son, especiall y a child, who is
under t he legal prot ect i on of a guardian or a court of law.
The Collins Cobuild English Dict ionar y defines a ward as a
child who is placed under t he care of a guardian because his
`parent s are dead or because he is `believed t o be in need of
prot ect ion. Teachers in I ndia somet imes refer t o t heir
st udent s as t heir wards. This woul d be consider ed t o be
rat her old fashioned by nat ive speakers.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of vomitorium?
( A. K. Arunachalam, Kancheepuram)
I f an audit orium is a place where t he audience sit s, a
`vomit orium should be a room where people vomit .
Unfort unat ely, t his is not t he case. The word comes from t he
world of `t heat re. A `vomit orium was t he passageway t hat
people used t o get t o t heir seat s in an amphit heat re. These
passages were sit uat ed below or behind an individuals seat ,
and t hey enabled t he members of t he audience t o ent er and
exit t he t heat re very quickly. I underst and t hat t he
`vomit oria in t he Colosseum in Rome were so well designed
t hat it was possible for 50,000 people t o ent er or exit t he
place in 15 minut es. The word `vomit orium comes from t he
Lat i n `vomit us, meaning `t o vomit . What is t he connect ion?
When you vomit , t he cont ent s of your st omach are t hr own
out . The `vomit orium disgorged or forced out t he `cont ent s
of t he t heat re - t he people inside!
250
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning and origin of pay through ones nose?
( C. S. Sivaram, Hyderabad)
When you pay t hr ough your nose for somet hing, you pay a
heavy price for it . I n ot her words, you pay t oo much for it .
This informal expression has t he same meaning as `cost an
arm and a leg.
* Never go t o t hat rest aurant . You have t o pay t hrough your
nose for most t hings.
According t o scholars, t his idiom has been ar ound for over
t en cent uries. I underst and t hat when t he Danes ruled
I reland, t hey imposed heavy t axes on t he locals. I f an
I rishman failed t o pay t he t ax, he had his nose cut off. I n
ot her words, if he didnt pay, he had t o lit erally pay t hrough
his nose.
What is the meaning of lagniappe?
( S. Kart hi geyan, Coimbat ore)
First , let s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion. The `a in t he first and
second syllable are pronounced like t he `a in `cat , `bat , and
`fat . The `g and t he final `e are silent , and t he `i sounds like
t he `y in `yes, `yellow, and `young. The word is pronounced
`lan- yap wit h t he st ress on t he second syllable. I underst and
t hat `lagniappe comes from t he Spanish `la napa meaning
`t he gift . The word was originally used t o refer t o a gift or
somet hing ext ra t hat a friendly shopkeeper added t o a
cust omer s purchase. As t ime went on, t he word acquired a
broader meaning. I t began t o be used t o refer t o any
251
unexpect ed gift or benefit . Lagniappe is not included in many
dict ionaries, and it s use is most ly confined t o what are known
as t he `Gulf st at es in t he Unit ed St at es - Mississippi,
Louisiana, et c.
* Since we had bought so many it ems, t he shopkeeper
included a DVD player as lagniappe.
The well- known aut hor Mar k Twain wr ot e about t his word in
his book `Life on t he Mississippi.
What is the meaning of too clever by half?
( G. Revat hi, Vij ayawada)
This is an expression t hat is used t o refer t o someone who
t hinks very highly of himself. When you say t hat someone is
t oo clever by half, what you mean is t hat t he individual is
very annoying because he imagines himself t o be much
smart er t han he act ually is. You are implying t hat he is much
t oo clever for his own good, and t his might get him int o
t r ouble one day. The expression is most l y used ironically. I t
is also possible t o say `t oo smart by half.
* You should meet t he charact ers in my class. Some of t hem
are t oo clever by half.
What is the difference between alternate and alternative?
( C. Padma, Hyderabad)
I f you play t ennis on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and
Sundays, t hen you are said t o play t he game on alt er nat e
252
days. I n ot her words, you dont play ever y day, but on every
ot her day. The st ress is on t he first syllable `al.
* Wouldnt it be nice if we had school/ college only on
alt ernat e days?
The word can also be used t o mean `one aft er anot her ; when
t hings `alt ernat e t hey t ake place in t urns.
* I t was a movie t hat made you laugh and cr y alt er nat ely.
The word `alt ernat ive means one or t he ot her; it is nor mall y
used t o refer t o a sit uat ion when a choice has t o be made.
The st ress in t his case is on t he second syllable.
* Theres somet hing wrong wit h t he car . Our alt ernat ive is t o
t ake a bus.
Careful users of t he language somet imes argue t hat t his
word should be used only when t here is choice bet ween t wo
t hings. This however, is no longer t r ue. You can have several
alt ernat ives.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of wake in the following expression: in the
wake of something?
( Ut sav, Chi dambar am)
The i di om means comi ng af t er somet hi ng or as a
consequence of somet hi ng. The w ak e has not hi ng t o
do w i t h w ak i ng up f r om sl eep. I n t hi s case, t he w or d
r ef er s t o t he t ur bul en ce l ef t by somet hi ng movi ng
t h r ough t he w at er . I n ot her w or ds, t he w aves or pat h
t h at a movi ng shi p or boat l eaves behi n d i n t he w at er
i s a w ak e.
253
* The t sunami l ef t a t r ai l of dest r uct i on i n i t s w ak e.
How is the word ombudsman pronounced?
( G. Nagaraj an, Er ode)
The `o is like t he `o in `hot , `got , and `not , and t he following
`u sounds like t he `u in `put , `pull , and `full. The `s is
pronounced like t he `z in `zoo, `zi p, and `zap, and t he final
`a is like t he `a in `china. The st ress is on t he first syllable
`om.
An `ombudsman is someone who invest igat es complaint s
made by people against t he government or any public
organisat ion. He is an independent official who represent s
t he common man in his fight against t he government
* All complaint s must be made in writ ing t o t he banking
ombudsman by t hree t his aft ernoon.
The word is Swedish in origin and it means `represent at ive
or `agent . I underst and t hat t he word was borrowed int o
English in t he 1960s. The word is being slowly replaced by
`ombudsperson.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of humour me?
( Saurab, Bangalore)
Somet imes, young children come and t ell us t all t ales. They
narrat e event s which couldnt have happened. A child may
t ell us t hat t here was a t iger in t he garden and t hat he drove
it away wit h a st ick. When children t ell us such st ories, as
adult s, it is our j ob t o believe t hem. Why do we pret end t o
believe t hem? Simple. We want t o keep t he chil dren happy;
254
we want t o `humour t hem. When you t ell someone `humour
me, what you want t he person t o do is t o agree wit h what
you are saying or doing. What you may be saying or doing
may be complet ely unreasonable, but you want t he person t o
agree wit h you j ust t o keep you happy.
* The husband t hought it best t o humour his wife.
* I hol d t he pur se st rings. So youd bet t er humour me.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the difference between High Commissioner and
Ambassador?
( Raj e, Kurukshet ra)
The funct i ons t hese t wo individuals perform are t he same;
t here is no difference. I underst and t hat bot h are of t he same
rank as well. Brit ains diplomat ic missions in various part s of
t he world are eit her called "High Commission or "Embassy.
The former t er m is used t o refer t o Brit ains diplomat ic
missi ons in Commonwealt h count ries.
For example, t he diplomat ic mission in Delhi is called t he
High Commission, and t he senior diplomat in charge of it is
t he "High Commissioner.
Since t he Unit ed St at es and Russia were never a part of t he
Commonwealt h, Brit ains diplomat ic missions in t hese
count ries are called "Embassies, and not "High
Commissions. The person in char ge of one is called
"Ambassador.
S. UPENDRAN
255
How is the word nuptial pronounced?
( C. Sor napriya, Dindigul)
The `u in t he first syllable sounds like t he `u in `cup, `pup,
and `cub; t he `t is pronounced like t he `sh in `sheep, `ship
and `show. The `ia t hat follows sounds like t he `a in `china,
and t he st ress is on t he first syllable. The word sounds like
`nupshell. I t is considered rat her old fashioned, and is mainly
used j ocularly t o refer t o t hings relat ed t o a persons wedding
ceremony.
* I had t o laugh when t he old woman referred t o her bedroom
as her nupt ial chamber.
What is the meaning of chequebook diplomacy?
( M. Kauseelan, Vat hlagundu)
This is an expression t hat was coined during Gulf War I ,
when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait . I n order t o `liberat e
t he count ry, George Bush, t he current President s fat her,
invit ed ot her nat ions t o j oin him in his effort t o overt hrow
Saddam.
Many count ries sent t roops, but t here wer e some whose
const it ut ion did not permit t hem t o send t r oops abroad.
Japan and Germany, t wo of t he cl osest allies of t he U.S, were
t wo such count ries. Since t hey couldnt commit t roops t o t he
coali t ion, t hese t wo rich nat ions did t he next best t hing -
t hey gave a lot of money for t he war effort ! This is how
`chequebook diplomacy came int o being.
Nowadays, t he expression is used t o describe any
int ernat i onal policy in which a count ry dangles money, in t he
for m of economic aid and invest ment , t o win diplomat ic
256
favour. Anot her expression t hat has more or less t he same
meaning is `dollar dipl omacy.
* Chi na denies using chequebook diplomacy in Africa.
What is the difference between infant and toddler?
( L. Balagopal, Hyderabad)
The word `infant comes from t he Lat in `in-fans meaning
`unable t o speak. So t echnically an infant is a child t hat has
not learned t o speak as yet . For many nat i ve speakers,
`infant is a formal word for `baby; some scholars argue it is
an impersonal or a medical t erm for `baby.
A newborn baby or a ver y young child can be called an
infant . I n American English, t he word is normally used t o
refer t o a baby, especially a very young one. I n Brit ish
English, children as old as 7 are called `infant s.
I n England, children bet ween t he ages of 4 and 7 go t o
`I nfant Schools. According t o Brit ish law, anyone under t he
age of 18 is an infant !
There is less confusion about t he word `t oddler. He is
someone who `t oddles. I n ot her words, he is someone who is
j ust beginning t o walk; he t akes small, unst eady st eps.
Dont knock t he weat her; nine- t ent hs of t he people couldnt
st art a conversat ion if it didnt change once in a while. - Kin
Hubbard
S. UPENDRAN
257
What is the meaning and origin of blurb?
( Avinash Goyal, Ghaziabad)
When we pick up any book, t he first t hing we normall y look
at is t he back cover. I t usuall y cont ains t he
publishers/ reviewers short , but raving descript ion of t he
book. This descript ion, which is always full of praise for bot h
t he aut hor and t he book, is called a `blurb.
* According t o t he blurb, t his is t he best novel writ t en by t he
aut hor.
Alt hough t he idea of a blur b had been in exist ence for a long
t i me, t he word it self was coined onl y in t he 20t h cent ury. I
underst and t hat it was t he brainchild of Gelet t Burgess, t he
well- known aut hor of `The Pur ple Cow. When his new book,
`Are You Bromide? was launched, Bur gess persuaded his
publishers t o do away wit h t he usual sugary writ e- up.
I nst ead, he made t hem past e t he pict ure of a girl whom he
named Miss. Belinda Blur b. The back cover said, `YES, t his is
a BLURB; it cont ained quot es from Ms. Blur b. As a result ,
anyt hing t hat was print ed on t he back cover began t o be
called a blurb. Nowadays, we have blurbs on DVD and VCD
covers as well.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of wake up and smell the coffee?
( K. Jagadeesh, Chennai)
This is an expressi on t hat is most ly used in informal cont ext s.
When you t ell someone t o `wake up and smell t he coffee,
what you mean is t hat you want t he individual t o be more
aware of what is happening ar ound him. I t has t he same
meaning as `get wit h it .
258
* You dont know what an iPhone is! Wake up and smell t he
coffee.
What is the meaning of akimbo?
( R. Saranyaraj , Sulur)
First , let s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion. The `a sounds like t he
`a in `china; t he following syllable is pronounced like t he
name `Kim. The final `bo rhymes wit h `so and `no, and t he
st ress is on t he second syllable `kim. The word is mainly
used t o refer t o ones arm posit ion. When you st and wit h
your arms akimbo, you have your hands on your hips and
t he arms are spread out wit h t he elbows point ing out wards.
I t is a post ure t hat generally indicat es impat ience, host ilit y,
or cont empt .
* The principal st ood, arms akimbo, glaring at t he st udent s.
* St anding behind t he sofa wit h ar ms akimbo, Sheel t old t he
paint er what t o do.
Can we say, He is a faculty at Osmania University?
( B. Shalini, Hyderabad)
The word `facult y is normally used t o refer t o all t he t eachers
in a part icular depart ment or univer sit y. I n t his sense, it is
like t he wor d `st aff. Just as you cannot say `He is a st aff,
you cannot say, `He is a facult y. I f you wish t o refer t o a
par t icular individual, t hen you have t o say, `He is a member
of t he facult y or `He is a facult y member.
* Eminent facult y members from Har vard will be present at
t he conference.
259
* I d like all of you t o meet t he new member of our facult y.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the difference between look and see?
( Megha, Delhi)
Bot h words are used t o t al k about t he different ways we use
our eyes. `Seeing is a physiological process, it is somet hing
t hat our eyes do aut omat ically. When you `see somet hing, it
is not int ent ional, but accident al. On your morning walk, you
may see a cut e lit t le puppy, a man wearing a pink shirt , and
an old mot or cycle parked next t o your new car. When you
went for t he walk, it was not your int ent ion t o see all t hese
obj ect s. You saw t hem because t hey came in front of you.
You couldnt avoid not icing t hem.
`Looking, on t he ot her hand, is an int ent ional act . When you
look at somet hing, you pay at t ent ion. For example, if you
look at a puppy, you observe it carefull y. You begin t o pay
at t ent ion t o it s colour, size, et c.
What is the meaning of take pot shots at someone?
( K. Saraswat hi, Kodaikanal)
I n Brit ish English, t he word `pot is used as a verb t o mean
"t o shoot small birds and animals wit hout t aking careful aim.
The reason you dont need t o aim is because t here are so
many birds/ animals clust ered nearby, t hat if you shoot in
t heir general direct ion, you are bound t o hit somet hing.
There is no way t hat you can miss. Hunt ers t ook pot shot s
because t hey want ed t o put food on t he t able; t heir aim was
t o fill t he cooking pot ! The opposit e of `pot shot , I
underst and, is `fair shot ; t he kind of shot a `gent leman
hunt er prefers t o t ake. I n t his case, t he hunt er decides
260
which animal he wishes t o kill, aims for it , and t hen shoot s.
As t ime went by, t he t er m `pot shot began t o be applied t o
any sort of blow - physical as well as verbal - t hat was
difficult t o avoid. The expression "t ake pot shot s at someone
is now used t o mean t o crit icise someone rat her
unexpect edly or unfairly.
* During t he press conference, sever al report ers t ook pot
shot s at t he aging act or.
What is the meaning of last but not least?
( Deepak Das, Jaipur)
The expression has been around since t he 16t h cent ury. I t
means "finally, but not less import ant ly. The expression can
be used when you int roduce a group of people t o a friend.
When you come t o t he last person in t he group, you can say
"last but not least , t his is Suman. What you mean by t his is
t hat t hough Suman is t he final person t o be int roduced, it
doesnt mean she is less import ant t han t hose int roduced
before her; she is as import ant as t he ot hers.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the difference between cronyism and nepotism?
( Furqan Shaikh, Bangalore)
Bot h words are used t o show disapproval. I f you are accused
of nepot ism, t hen you use your posit ion t o promot e or hel p
t he members of your family; it is favourit ism based on
kinship. The word comes from t he Lat in `nepos meaning
`nephew.
261
* Prema got t he j ob because of nepot ism - her fat her is t he
CEO of t he company!
The word `cr ony ( r hymes wit h `pony and `Tony) is used t o
refer t o a friend wit h whom you spend a lot of t ime. When
you accuse someone of cr onyism, what you mean is t hat t he
person is using his official posit ion t o help his friends.
* Bush and Cheney have oft en been accused of cr onyism.
What is the meaning of tour de force?
( Shikha Maurya, Varanasi)
This is an expressi on t hat comes from French, and is mainly
used t o show emphasis. When you call someones speech or
performance a `t our de force, what you mean is t hat it was
out st anding; it was ver y well done. I t is somet hing t hat is
unlikely t o be equalled by ot hers.
* The ageing act ors per formance as t he drunken fat her is a
t our de force.
S. UPENDRAN
Is there a sentence that includes all 26 letters of the alphabet?
( K. R. Uma, Kasargod)
A sent ence which cont ains all t he let t ers of t he alphabet is
called a `pangram. There are many pangrams; in fact , if you
are in t he mood, you can creat e one of your own. The most
famous pangram is t he following: "The quick brown fox
j umps over t he lady dog.
262
I underst and t hat in t he old days when t ypist s wished t o
check if all t he keys were in working order , t hey
What is the meaning and origin of back to square one
( S. M. Chidambaram, Tir unelveli)
When you have been working on a problem for a long t ime,
and you are unable t o find a solut ion, what is it t hat you
nor mall y do? Since you have not been able t o make any
progress, you go back t o t he beginning and st ar t all over
again. When you t ell someone t hat you are `back t o square
one, what you mean is t hat youve ret urned t o t he original
st art ing point . I n ot her words, you are going t o begin all over
again.
Aft er t hree days of house hunt ing, I found one t hat I reall y
liked. When I went t o pay t he advance t he next morning, t he
landlord said t hat he had decided not t o rent t he house. So,
it was back t o square one.
According t o some scholars, t his expression was made
popular by sport s comment at ors of t he BBC. Since foot ball is
a game t hat is difficult t o foll ow on t he radio, what some
ent erprising radio comment at ors did in t he early 20t h
cent ur y was t o divide t he field int o eight squares. The
comment at ors infor med t he audience of what was happening
on t he field by t elling t hem which square t he ball was in. On
t he day of t he game, most newspapers and spor t s magazines
carried a drawing of t he playing field wit h t he squares clearly
mar ked and numbered - t his made it easy for list eners t o
follow t he act ion. Square one was where t he goalie st ood.
Ot her s believe t hat t he idiom has it s ori gins in board games
like Snakes and Ladders.
What is the difference between stammer and stutter?
263
( Lij o T. Jose, Kot t ayam)
Bot h wor ds are used t o refer t o a defect in an indivi duals
speech. We oft en meet people who have difficult y speaking;
somet imes, t hey merely repeat t he first sound or syllable of a
word. They are unable t o produce anyt hing beyond t hat .
Careful users of t he language maint ain t hat t he word `st ut t er
is used t o refer t o a per son who has a chr onic speech defect .
`St ammering, on t he ot her hand, is considered t emporary.
All of us have `st ammered somet ime or t he ot her . Human
beings can st ammer or st ut t er; machines only st ut t er.
Speech t herapist s in Brit ain prefer t o use `st ammer, while
t hose in America and Canada prefer `st ut t er. Arist ot le,
Aesop, Darwin, Napoleon, and Mar ylyn Monroe are some
famous people who st ut t ered.
Is it ok to say, I have a head-bath every Saturday?
( N. Chet han, Chennai)
This is an expression t hat is commonly heard in I ndia; not
many dict ionaries include `head- bat h - t he few t hat do, st at e
t hat t he word is mainly used in Sout h Asia. Nat ive speaker s
of English dont use t his word, and probably wont
underst and what you mean by it . When a nat ive speaker of
English t alks about t aking a `bubble bat h, what he means is
t hat he is going t o get int o a bat ht ub which is full of wat er
and soap bubbles.
So when you t ell him t hat you are going t o have a head-
bat h, he might get t he impression t hat you are going t o get
int o a t ub which is full of heads! Just kidding! Nat ive
speaker s wouldnt say `I have a head- bat h ever y Sat urday;
inst ead, t hey would say, `I wash my hair every Sat ur day.
264
What is the meaning of excuse my French?
( B. Gunasekharan, Trichy)
Very oft en, when people get angry, t hey swear. They use
many vulgar words which t hey wouldnt nor mally use. When
you say `excuse my French, what you mean is t hat you are
sor ry t hat you have sprinkled your conversat ion wit h words
which are considered impolit e. You are apologising for
swearing in t he presence of t hose who might be offended by
it . The expression `pardon my French has t he same meaning.
Why t he French, and not t he Germans or Russians? The
answer is fairly simple. The English hat ed t he French; t hey
t hought t hat t he French were vulgar people who swore all t he
t i me. Therefore, when an Englishman says, `par don my
French, what he means is t hat he is going t o behave cr udely
like a Frenchman!
S. UPENDRAN
What is the difference between pain and ache?
( D. Vincent , Vellore)
Bot h words can be used t o refer t o any bodily discomfort t hat
an individual may feel. Of t he t wo, `pain is t he more general
t erm. The pain t hat you feel in some par t of t he body may be
int ense, or it may be mild; similarly, it s durat ion could be
eit her long or short . I f you hit your t humb wit h a hammer ,
t he pain could last for a few seconds, or for several days.
Usuall y, `pain implies somet hing t hat comes on suddenl y.
When you bump int o t he wall, you feel `pain and not `ache.
The pain t hat you feel could be local - over a small area -
or it could be widespread.
265
Ache, on t he ot her hand, is usuall y associat ed wit h a
par t icular part of t he body; we oft en t al k of a t oot hache,
headache and st omachache. When we get any of t hese
aches, t hey usually last for some t ime. They dont disappear
in a mat t er of minut es.
An ache, t herefore, is usually long last ing. Anot her difference
is t hat t he discomfort t hat one experiences is not as int ense
as `pain; some dict ionaries define `ache as `dull pain.
The only exercise I get is walking behind t he coffins of
friends who t ook exercise.
What is the difference between ex and former?
( Nizamuddin Ahmed, Vaniyambadi)
Careful users of t he language lament t he fact t hat not many
people maint ain a dist inct ion bet ween t hese t wo words. I f
you are in t he habit changing j obs every t wo mont hs, you
will have several `former bosses, but only one `ex- boss.
What is t he difference bet ween t he t wo?
Some scholars argue t hat t he word `ex should be used wit h
t he `immediat e past incumbent . Your previous boss is your
ex- boss, and t he ones you had before him are your former
bosses. Vaj payee is t he ex- Prime Minist er of I ndia. Nehru, V.
P. Singh, I ndira Gandhi, and Guj r al, some of t he ot hers who
preceded Vaj payee, are all `former Prime Minist ers of I ndia.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the meaning of diem?
( Ramesh Reddy, New Delhi)
This is a word t hat comes from Lat i n, and it means `day. The
word is used in English in cert ain fixed expressions like `carpe
diem and `per diem.
266
Of t he t wo, `per diem is much more common in I ndia,
especially in Government circles. I t means `per day; when
employees of t he government are sent on official dut y t o
ot her places, t hey are paid a daily allowance. This is called
per diem, and it is given t o an indi vidual t o meet his daily
expenses. Car pe diem means `seize t he day.
What is the meaning of `smell blood'?
( Garima, Noida)
When someone you are compet ing against begins t o exhibit a
weakness, what would you do? You woul d make use of t he
weakness t o your advant age. This is what t he expression ` t o
smell blood' means - t o make use of someone' s weakness or
problems t o your advant age. I t is also possible t o say ` scent
blood' .
* When our main bowler was inj ured, t he opposit i on began t o
smell/ scent blood.
When a shark smells blood, it goes int o a frenzy. I t at t empt s
t o find out where t he smell is coming from. I t t ries t o locat e
it s prey making use of it s amazing senses, and when it finds
t he wounded animal, it at t acks. The wounded animal is at a
disadvant age, and t he shark makes use of t his weakness t o
kill it .
S. UPENDRAN
What is the difference between `cool down' and `cool off'?
( R. Ganeshan, Hyderabad)
267
The t wo phr asal ver bs have more or less t he same meaning.
When somet hing ` cools down' or ` cools off' , it becomes
cooler t han what it was earlier. I n ot her words, t he
t emperat ure drops a lit t le bit . During summer, when it cools
down, t hings seem a lit t le more pleasant .
* I t was well past midni ght before it st art ed t o cool off/ cool
down.
The t wo expressions can be used wit h people as well. When
you say t hat someone has cooled down/ cooled off, what you
mean is t hat he has become less angry.
* There' s no point t alking t o you now. Go t o your room and
cool off.
How is the word `sic' used?
( M. Dilip, Mysore)
The word is pronounced like t he word ` sick' and it means
` so, t hus' . This Lat in word is usually writ t en wit hin bracket s
aft er a quot e. By put t ing t he word ` sic' wit hin bracket s, what
you are t elli ng t he reader is t hat you are aware t here is an
error in what you have writ t en; t his error is not yours, but
t he original writ er ' s. You are merel y informing t he reader
t hat you are being fait hful t o t he original source.
* The young soldiers were unable t o cope up ( sic) wit h t he
pressure.
What is the meaning of `eleemosynary'?
( Shivaramakrishna Pillai, Chennai)
268
First , let ' s deal wit h t he pronunciat ion. There are several
ways of pronouncing t his word. The simplest way is t o
pronounce t he first ` e' like t he ` e' in ` set ' , ` pet ' , and ` let ' ;
t he following ` ee' like t he ` ee' in ` feel' , ` peel' , and ` heel' .
The ` o' sounds like t he ` o' in ` hot ' , ` pot ' , and ` dot ' , and t he
` y' like t he ` i' in ` hit ' , ` pit ' , and ` sit ' . The final ` a' is like t he
` a' in ` china' , and t he main st ress is on t he t hird syllable
` mos' . Remember , t his is j ust one of t he ways of
pronouncing t he word.
Not all dict ionaries include t his word. Eleemosynary is most ly
used in formal cont ext s, and it means relat ing t o charit y or
t he giving of alms.
What is the difference between `damsel' and `spinster'?
( Mani, Ulundur pet )
A ` damsel' is a young, unmarried woman; t he word is most ly
used in lit erary cont ext s, and is considered rat her old
fashioned. A much more common word nowadays is
` bacheloret t e' . By t he way, t he fi rst syllable of ` damsel' is
pronounced like t he word ` dam' , and t he ` s' t hat follows is
like t he ` z' in ` zoo' and ` zip' . The main st ress is on t he first
syllable. A ` spinst er ' , unlike a damsel, is usually middle aged
or old. She is someone who has never married and her
chances of get t ing married are remot e. A damsel is single for
t he t ime being; she may choose t o marry lat er on.
S. UPENDRAN
How is the word `wind' in the expression `long winded'
pronounced?
( L. Janani, Hyder abad)
269
The ` i' in ` winded' is like t he ` i' in ` kid' , ` did' and ` bid' , and
t he st ress is on t he first syllable. The word is pronounced like
t he noun ` wind' , t he st rong breeze t hat somet imes blows
before t he evening rain. When you say t hat someone' s
speech was ` long winded' , what you mean is t hat t he person
wast ed a lot of t ime get t ing t o t he point . The speaker used
t oo many words, and as a result t he speech t urned out t o be
t ediously long. The expression ` long winded' can also be
used t o t alk about t hings t hat have been writ t en.
* The CEO gave a long- winded speech about t he import ance
of family.
S. UPENDRAN
What is the difference between `look over' and `overlook'?
( P. Jai ram, Bangalore)
When you overlook somet hing, you ignore it or fail t o see it .
I n ot her words, it is possible for one t o overlook somet hing
or someone accident ally or deliberat ely. By t he way, t he
main st ress in t his word is on ` look' .
* The fast bowler had been overlooked again. The select ors
were unwilli ng t o give a reason.
The word ` overlook' also means t o give a view of a place
from above. For example,
* Vinit a is pret t y excit ed because her room overlooks a
beaut iful lake.
270
When you look somet hing or someone over, you very quickly
examine t he obj ect or person.
* The writ er asked a couple of his friends t o look over t he
art icle.
T H E E N D
271

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