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What is the meaning of "underwriter"?

This is a term frequently used by organisations that provide insurance. When an


organisation "underwrites" an activity, it signs a contract which guarantees payment for
any loss or damage to the goods. A company that invests money to help an individual
start a new project is called an underwriter. An individual can be an underwriter as well;
his primary job is to study the risks involved in an activity and decide how much to
charge as insurance. He determines the creditworthiness of a client. He is called an
underwriter because he writes his name under the policy.

* Do you think that your company would be willing to underwrite our new hospital?

How is the word "inexorably" pronounced?

The first syllable is pronounced like the word "in", and the second like the word "ex".
The "o" in the third syllable and the "a" in the fourth sound like the "a" in "china"; the
final "y" is like the "i" in "pit", "kit", and "sit". The main stress is on the second syllable.
"Inexorably" is mostly used in formal contexts. It refers to a process which cannot be
changed or stopped; it is something which continues relentlessly.

* Many feel that the crisis in Iran is moving inexorably towards war.

What is the difference between "anoint" and "appoint"?

People who are "appointed" for a job are chosen by others for a particular position. An
appointment is something official.

* The members of the Board appointed Dravid captain.

"Anoint" has a religious connotation which "appoint" doesn't. When a priest anoints
someone, he applies oil or water on some part of the individual; this is usually done as
part of a religious ceremony.

* The young priest anointed the old man's forehead with sandalwood paste.

It is also possible to "anoint" oneself with something. In this case, we are merely
smearing ourselves with some sort of liquid. For example, an individual can anoint
herself with suntan lotion. When a person in authority, such as a priest, "anoints"
someone, he chooses this individual for an important job

What is the meaning and origin of "writing is on the wall"?


When Shahid Afridi blazed away to a century in 40-odd balls in the fifth one-day
international, most of us knew who was going to win the match. By the end of the 10th
over, the writing was on the wall for India. When you say that the handwriting or writing
is on the wall, what you mean is that something disastrous or bad is going to happen.

* When the team lost in the first round of the playoffs, the writing was on the wall for the
coach.

* Prabhakar saw the handwriting on the wall when the company fired two more people.

The expression "handwriting on the wall" comes from the Bible. The King of Babylon,
Belshazzar, sees a hand mysteriously appear and write a message on a wall. Being unable
to decipher the message, he summons Daniel. The wise man tells Belshazzar that the
message is a warning from God that he will soon be overthrown and his kingdom
destroyed.

"A diplomat is a man who remembers a woman's birthday, but never remembers her
age."

What is the meaning and origin of "writing is on the wall"?

When Shahid Afridi blazed away to a century in 40-odd balls in the fifth one-day
international, most of us knew who was going to win the match. By the end of the 10th
over, the writing was on the wall for India. When you say that the handwriting or writing
is on the wall, what you mean is that something disastrous or bad is going to happen.

* When the team lost in the first round of the playoffs, the writing was on the wall for the
coach.

* Prabhakar saw the handwriting on the wall when the company fired two more people.

The expression "handwriting on the wall" comes from the Bible. The King of Babylon,
Belshazzar, sees a hand mysteriously appear and write a message on a wall. Being unable
to decipher the message, he summons Daniel. The wise man tells Belshazzar that the
message is a warning from God that he will soon be overthrown and his kingdom
destroyed.

"A diplomat is a man who remembers a woman's birthday, but never remembers her
age."

What is the difference between "fight with" and "fight against"?

In some contexts, both phrasal verbs have more or less the same meaning. When you
"fight against" or "fight with" someone, you do battle against the individual.
*I refuse to fight against someone who is twenty years younger than me.

In the examples given, one could easily replace one phrasal verb with the other. It is also
possible to "fight against" something as well. For example, one can fight against a
disease, or one can fight against poverty. In these two cases, you are doing battle against
a disease and poverty. "Fight with" has an additional meaning. When you fight with
something, you use a weapon as an instrument in your fight. For example, in the old days
people fought with spears and swords.

Nowadays people fight with guns. Also, when you "fight with" someone, it could mean
that you are joining hands with the individual to fight someone or something. In other
words, you and the other individual are joining forces and fighting a common enemy.
"Fight against" does not have this meaning.

*I fought with him in Kashmir against the terrorists.

What is the meaning and origin of "water off a duck's back"?

Although the duck spends a lot of time in water, the water never stays on its feathers for
long. This is because its feathers are coated with oil and this prevents the water from
being absorbed. As a result, when the bird steps out of the water, it is able to shake it off
within a matter of a few seconds. Spending a considerable amount of time in a pond or a
lake seems to have no effect on the bird. Similarly, when you criticise someone and it has
no effect on him/her, then you can say that the criticism was like water off a duck's back.
Here are a few examples.

*I have scolded Achala several times for being lazy and sloppy, but it's just water off a
duck's back to her.

How is the word "entrepreneurship" pronounced?

The first syllable is like the word "on", and the "e" in the second and third syllable is
pronounced like the "a" in "china". The "eur" in the fourth syllable is like the "er" in
"herd" and "nerd". The final syllable is pronounced like the word "ship"; the main stress
is on "eur". An "entrepreneur", as you probably know, refers to someone who sets up a
business; he usually starts something new.

Therefore when you refer to "entrepreneurship" you are talking about the activities
associated with an entrepreneur. The word is of French origin. By the way, the word
"entrepreneur" has given rise to a new word, "intrapreneur".

Like an entrepreneur, this individual starts something new as well. But unlike the
entrepreneur, an "intrapreneur" doesn't set up a business of his own. He works within an
organisation and comes up with new inventions.

Is it OK to say, "He telephoned to Mr. X"?


When the word "telephone" is used as a verb, it is not followed by "to". You telephone
someone and not "telephone to" someone. It is like the word "call". Remember, when you
ring someone up, you "call him", you do not "call to him". Here are a few examples.

*Ananya telephoned her friend and told her she wouldn't be coming.

"The main problem with the French is that they have no word for `entrepreneur'."

— George. W. Bush

KNOW YOUR ENGLISH

"Hey, did your uncle ask for seed money?"

"No, I think he was too embarrassed to. But I hinted at the fact that I would be willing to
help him out. Give this letter the once-over, will you?"

"The once-over? What does it mean?"

"When you give someone or something the once-over what you are doing is taking a
quick look at the person or the object. You want to see what they are like."

"I see. How about this example? The student gave the paper the once-over before handing
it to the teacher."

"Sounds good. After checking the handbag, the security guard gave me the once-over
before he allowed me to enter the building."

"The principal gave the students the once-over and then began his speech."

"Now that you know the meaning, please give the letter the once-over!"

"O.K. I am done. It looks fine. Tell me, why do ...."

"....why were you smiling when you read the letter? Was it funny?"

"It had nothing to do with your letter. I remembered something strange that Sujatha said
this morning. She said that I had a really cute smile."

"She's been saying such things to everyone I know. She's moving to a new flat, and I
think she is looking for people to help her move. That's why she is laying it on thick."

"Laying what on thick? Talk English, will you?"

"When you say that someone is laying it on thick what you mean is that they are trying to
flatter you. There's too much of praise, in fact. Yesterday, Sujatha called me handsome."
"Handsome! That's laying it on thick."

"I know. Of late, Sujatha has learnt how to lay it on really thick."

"But why would she need anyone to help her move? She has her cousin, Arvind. Haven't
seen him in a while, though. Any idea where he is?"

"Hey, this is April. He must be busy cramming for his exams."

"Cramming? Does it mean the same thing as mugging?"

"Well, when you cram for a test, you study very hard for it. Usually at the very last
minute. For example, Narender spent the entire weekend cramming for the chemistry
test."

"How about this example? My father says that if I put in an hour's work every day, then I
wouldn't have to cram."

"He has a point there. But I am sure when he was a student, your father spent many
sleepless nights pounding the books."

"Pounding the books? Why would he do that? There's no need to...."

"....pounding the books is an informal expression meaning to study hard. Another


expression which has more or less the same meaning is `hit the books'."

"As soon as I return home from school, I hit the books. How does it sound?"

"You hitting the books soon after your return home! Please stop, it's cracking me up."

"Cracking you up? What does it mean? Are you going mad?"

"When something cracks you up, it makes you laugh. When I saw the kitten slip on a
banana peel, it just cracked me up."

"The principal's new wig cracked me up."

"Did you tell him he looked ridiculous?"

"No, we told him he looked great in it. We really laid it on thick."

"Americans always do the right thing — after they have tried everything else." —

Winston Churchill
Know Your English

"Hey, where are you off to so early in the morning?"

"To the station. Have to pick up my uncle Balu."

"I remember your uncle Balu! Isn't he extremely tall and good looking?"

"He is tall, but the rest of him has gone to seed, I am afraid."

"You make your uncle sound like a plant. What does `gone to seed' mean?"

"When you say that someone has gone to seed, what you mean is that they are not as
good looking or as healthy as they once were. For example, most actors go to seed once
they quit the film industry."

"That's true. I ran into my former physics teacher the other day. He seems to have gone to
seed."

"Sounds good. It is also possible to say, `run to seed'. My neighbour is running to seed."

"Is it OK to use this expression with things as well?"

"Yes, it is. According to some of my friends, the economy has gone to seed."

"My friend has a farmhouse. When he bought it, it was great. But now it's gone to seed."

"Unfortunately my uncle's old farmhouse is running to seed as well."

"That's too bad. Tell me, why is your uncle coming to see you?"

"He's planning to start a new business, and he's looking for some seed money."

"Why would a man running to seed ask for seed money?"

"That's a good one! Seed money is money that you give someone to help them start a
business or a project. My friend was willing to give me 20 lakhs as seed money."

"I don't believe you. No one in his right mind would give you seed money. You are
incapable of starting your own business."

"That's true. Even if I did start one, it would probably run to seed pretty quickly."

"I am sorry to hear that your uncle isn't doing well. The man is so energetic and so full...
."
"... .yes, he is a real go-getter all right. At least he was."

"Haven't a clue what you are talking about."

"When you refer to someone as a `go-getter' what you mean is that the individual is very
energetic. He is full of confidence and has the will to succeed. For example, my cousin
Kunthala is a real go-getter. I wouldn't be too surprised if she becomes a General
Manager very soon."

"The only way to turn this company around is to replace the dead wood with some young
go-getters."

"If my uncle heard you say that, he would go ballistic."

"When you `go ballistic' you become very angry, don't you?"

"That's right! When you go ballistic, you lose your cool easily. You become extremely
angry about something. For example, when Raju heard that Ganesh was not ready with
the report, he went ballistic."

"There are times when Amrit goes ballistic for no reason at all."

"Everyone was shocked when Saurabh went ballistic during the meeting."

"Saurabh went ballistic! That must have been a sight to behold. But tell me, why would
your uncle go ballistic if I said that we must replace the dead wood with go-getters?"

"It's simple. According to him, it was the go-getters who ran the company to seed."

"I see. So, are you going to give your uncle seed money?"

"I don't think so. If I did, my parents would go ballistic!"

What is the meaning of "Argus eyed"?

It means to be watchful or vigilant.

*The police were watching the proceedings, Argus-eyed.

*The students found it difficult to get past the Argus-eyed watchman.

Argus was a giant who had fifty pairs of eyes. Juno, wife of Zeus, asked him to keep an
eye on her heifer (young cow) Io. The vigilant Argus stood guard, and when he felt
drowsy, he allowed only two of his eyes to fall asleep. The remaining forty-nine pairs of
eyes were focussed on Io. Unfortunately for the giant, the messenger of the gods,
Mercury, became interested in the heifer and decided to steal it. In order to achieve this,
he began playing his lyre. The music was so soothing that Argus fell asleep - all one
hundred eyes closed. Mercury drew his sword and promptly chopped off the giant's head.
When Juno saw what had happened, she removed the eyes from the head of the giant and
placed them all on the tail of a peacock. I guess this explains why we talk about the eye
of a peacock's feather.

How is "imbroglio" pronounced?

The "i" in the first and third syllable is like the "i" in "dim", "rim" and "vim". The "o" in
the second and the final syllable is like the "o" in "go", "so", and "no". The "g" is silent,
and the main stress is on the second syllable "bro". A complicated or confusing situation
is usually referred to as an imbroglio. The word is normally used in formal contexts.

*The world is trying to find a solution to the Iraq imbroglio.

Which is correct? "I gave to nanny the keys" or "I gave the keys to nanny"?

The second sentence is correct. One usually gives something to someone.

*The new student gave a rose to John.

It is also possible to give someone something. In this case, "to" is not used. You do not
"give to someone".

*Please give the architect these diagrams.

What is the meaning of "co-son-in-law"?

This is a word that most native speakers of English do not understand. "Co-son-in-law" is
a term that we Indians have contributed to the English language. It is not found in many
dictionaries. When you refer to a man as a "co-son-in-law" what you mean is that the two
of you have the same in-laws. In other words, this other individual is married to your
wife's sister. Native speakers of English would refer to the other individual as a "brother
in law". Most Indian languages have a term for such a relationship, and I guess that's the
reason why we felt compelled to come up with "co-son-in-law".

What is the difference between "as scheduled" and "on schedule"?

When you say that the meeting took place "as scheduled", what you mean is that the
meeting took place as planned. Arrangements had been made, in advance, for the meeting
to be held and things went according to plan.

*The Opposition called for a bandh, but we managed to meet the minister as scheduled.
The expression "on schedule" is normally used to refer to time. When a project is
completed on schedule, it is completed on time.

*For a change all flights left on schedule.

"One man in a thousand is a leader of men - the other 999 follow women." —

Know Your English

"Nice to see someone smiling in this weather. What are you so happy about?"

"Oh, I'm just returning from Madhavan's factory. He was telling me that if we were to
invest in his company, we'd become millionaires real soon. Apparently, he has a new
product which ..."

"... .yes, he told me about the product too. He's very gung-ho about it."

"Gung-ho! I have come across that word before. It means enthusiastic, doesn't it?"

"That's right, it's an expression mostly used in informal contexts. Some of the people I
know are gung-ho about everything."

"I find such people very irritating. Indians are gung-ho about cricket."

"That's the only thing we are gung-ho about, unfortunately."

"Hey, I almost forgot. Your first play was staged yesterday, wasn't it? How did the
audience react? Were they gung-ho about it?"

"The response was underwhelming."

"Underwhelming? I don't think there is such a word."

"Yes, there is. When you say that the response to something was underwhelming, what
you mean is that the people were not impressed by it."

"In other words, `underwhelming' is the opposite of `overwhelming'."

"I wouldn't really... ."

"... how about this example? The actor's new movie met with an underwhelming
response."

"Sounds good. The response to the minister's speech was distinctly underwhelming."
"It usually is. Anyway, what did the press have to say about your play?"

"That my talent as a writer simply underwhelmed them."

"I am sorry to hear that. Why do you think the people didn't appreciate the play?"

"That's simple. Those who came were mostly fuddy-duddies. You see, ... ."

"... .they were what?"

"F... u... d... d... y and d... u... d... d... y. The `u' in both syllables is like the `u' in `hut',
`but', and `cut'. When you call someone a "fuddy-duddy", what you mean is that he is old
fashioned — not only in his attitude, but also in his appearance."

"I've stopped going to my father's office parties because I don't like being surrounded by
fuddy-duddies."

"That's a good example. My next door neighbour is a fuddy-duddy."

"Tell me, what was your hero's reaction to the underwhelming response of the press? Did
... ."

"... .the hero had a conniption fit. He almost... ."

"... .a conniption? Does it mean... ."

"... .conniption is a word that is mostly used in informal contexts. It means... ."

"... .I can guess what it means. When you have a conniption, you probably throw a fit. In
other words, you burst into anger."

"Very good. That's exactly what it means. The word is sometimes followed by `fit'. Here
is an example. When Shalini told her father that she was marrying Teja, he had a
conniption fit."

"So the next time someone gets angry about something, can I say, `Take it easy. Don't
have a conniption?"

"I guess you could say that. Every time I try to sport a beard my mother has conniptions...
."

"... most mothers aren't very gung-ho about their son growing a beard. I wonder why."

"Haven't a clue myself. Do you think I am a gung-ho sort of guy?"

"Only your mother would think so!"


"My play was a complete success. The audience was a failure." — Ashleigh Brilliant

What is the meaning and origin of "to leave no stone unturned"?

When someone says that he will leave no stone unturned what he means is that he will do
everything he can in order to achieve something. In other words, he will try every
possible means to get the desired results.

*The Chief Minister has said that he would leave no stone unturned to find the culprit.

*Both countries claimed that they would leave no stone unturned to find peace.

In 477 B. C, General Polycrates defeated General Mardonius in a battle. According to


rumours, the Persian general, Mardonius had a lot of treasure hidden under his tent. But
when Polycrates and his men searched the tent, they found nothing. The disappointed
General went to an oracle in Delphi and told him his problem. The oracle instructed him
to return to the place where the battle had been fought and to look under every stone for
the treasure; he asked him to leave no stone unturned. Polycrates went back and searched
under the stones, and sure enough he found the treasure.

Where did the word "hijack" come from?

Nowadays, this word is usually associated with airplanes. When you hijack a plane what
you are doing is taking control of it and forcing it to go to a destination of your choice. In
the process you make the passengers aboard the aircraft your hostage. It is not only
planes that you can hijack, but also other vehicles — cars, trucks, boats and ships.
"Hijack" has another meaning as well. It also means to steal goods from vehicles,
especially from trucks. Did you know that the original hijacker was someone who stole
from other criminals? He specialised in robbing bootleggers — people who sold illicit
liquor. According to some scholars, the "hijacker" got his name from the command he
gave the people he was about to rob. Apparently, he used to point his gun at his victim
and say, "Stick them up high, Jack." In other words, he wanted his victim to raise his
hands above his head. Since "Jack" is a very common name in the U.S., he called all his
victims "Jack". From "high" and "Jack" we get "hijack".

What is the difference between "life assurance" and "life insurance"?

There is no difference; some companies call themselves "life insurance" companies,


while others call themselves "life assurance" companies. They both do the same job. I
understand that the term "Assurance Company" is mostly used in countries where English
is not spoken as the first language — for example, in countries like Germany, Egypt, and
the Philippines.
There is, however, a difference in meaning between "assurance" and "insurance". One
normally "assures" against something that will definitely happen — for example death.
No matter how important we are, none of us can escape death. It is inevitable. You
usually "insure" yourself against something that may or may not happen — for example,
fire, burglary and flood. Not all of us will have our house destroyed in a fire accident. But
some of us do buy "fire insurance" and "flood insurance".

What is the meaning of "monobrow"?

The next time you look at yourself in the mirror, take a good look at the eyebrows. If the
two join just above your nose, then you can say that you have a "monobrow". The word
is mostly used in informal contexts, and is not found in many dictionaries.

"Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

What is the difference between "met" and "visited"?

A meeting can be planned or unplanned. You can ring someone up and ask him to meet
you somewhere at a particular time. It is also possible for you to meet someone quite
accidentally. For example, you decide to go shopping. Your friend also decides to go
shopping and you end up meeting him. In this case, the meeting is not planned; the two of
you run into each other quite accidentally.

*We met in the library as planned.

*The last time the two of us met was in London.

The word "visit" suggests a longer meeting. In other words, you are going to spend some
time with the individual. You visit someone's house. A visit is usually planned; the
people you are going to meet usually know that you are coming.

*During the holidays, he visited his cousin in Pune. There, he met many of his old
friends.

What is the meaning of "tongue-in-cheek"?

When you make a tongue-in-cheek remark, you do not expect your listener to take you
seriously. Although you may look serious, the intention is to be humorous. What you say
is meant as a joke.

*Was Vijay speaking with tongue-in-cheek when he referred to Sania as the heartthrob of
India?

*"We all know that Raju is an intellectual", Bala said tongue in cheek.

Does the word "regift" exist?


Yes, it does. When you get married you usually get a lot of gifts. Sometimes two or three
people end up giving you the same thing. For example, you may end up getting three or
four clocks. What are you going to do with so many clocks? If you are sensible, then
what you would do is to wait for one of your friends to get married. When he/she does,
you give one of the extra clocks as a gift. This is what we mean by "regifting".

*Geetha is planning to regift the ugly vase that she got from Bala.

How is the word "ensemble" pronounced?

The "e" in the first and second syllable is pronounced like the "o" in "pot", "hot", and
"cot". The final "e" is usually silent and the main stress is on the second syllable.
Musicians, actors and dancers who always perform together can be referred to as an
"ensemble".

*Rahul is a member of a jazz singing ensemble in Hyderabad.

Things that combine well together can also be called an ensemble.

*Prithi bought the whole ensemble — the dress, the matching earnings, and the shoes.

What is the meaning of "armchair critic"?

There are plenty of people in our country who have never played cricket in their life, but
who are capable of giving a lengthy lecture on the subject. They can tell you why Sachin
should start using a lighter bat, and what was wrong with Ganguly's field placement
during a particular match. They seem to be very knowledgeable about the subject of
cricket; but what they know is based on one of two things — they have either gathered
the information from books or by listening to people who know about the subject. In
other words, armchair critics are people who have little or no practical experience. They
have become knowledgeable by sitting in their favourite armchair and reading.

*If you want words of wisdom from an armchair critic, you can go to Laxman.

*I want someone who has dealt with this problem, not some armchair critic.

People who learn a lot about places by reading about them are called "armchair
travellers".

"A fine is a tax for doing something wrong. A tax is a fine for doing something right." —
Unknown

What is the difference between "enough" and "enough of"?


When you say that you have had "enough ice cream" what you mean is that you have had
sufficient ice cream, you don't want any more for the time being. Even though you like
the stuff, you do not intend to eat any more even if it were offered to you.

*I have had enough grammar for today.

*I think she has had enough practice for today.

"Enough of" carries with it a negative connotation. When you have had "enough of"
something you have had an excess of it. In other words, you have had too much of it, and
as a result you are fed up of it. If you were to say that you have had enough of ice cream,
what it suggests is that you are sick of eating ice cream.

*I have had enough of grammar.

*I have had enough of Ganguly and his antics.

S. Upendran

Is it OK to say, "My cousin divorced last month"?

The sentence is grammatically incorrect. You usually divorce someone; the word
"divorced" is usually followed by a noun or a pronoun.

*After twenty years of marriage, Rama decided to divorce Govind.

*My cousin divorced his wife last month.

It is also possible to say, "to get a divorce". For example,

*They are planning to get a divorce soon.

*My cousin got divorced last month.

What is the meaning of "erudite"?

First, let's deal with the pronunciation. The "e" is like the "e" in "set", "pet", and "met",
and the following "u" sounds like the "u" in "put", "pull" and "full". The final syllable
rhymes with "might", "kite", and "fight", and the main stress is on the first syllable.

When you say that someone is "erudite" what you mean is that he/she is well learned; he
or she sounds scholarly. The word is invariably used in formal contexts.

*Sekhar is very different from my other cousins. He is very erudite and well informed.

*The old professors were stunned when the young man gave an erudite lecture.
What is the meaning of "diddly-squat"?

This is a slang expression meaning "nothing". When you say that someone knows diddly-
squat about chemistry, what you mean is that the individual doesn't know anything about
the subject.

*After all the work I did, I got paid diddly-squat.

*The property that we bought ten years ago is now worth diddly-squat.

Why are people who are left-handed called "southpaws"?

According to many sports enthusiasts, the word "southpaw" began to be used to refer to
lefthanders in the late 19th Century. Some believe that the sports columnist Finley Peter
Dunne coined the word. "Southpaw" comes to us from the world of baseball.

This popular American game is usually played in the summer; professional games are
played either in the afternoons or in the evenings. In most stadiums, the "home plate" or
the batter's box is placed in such a manner that it faces east. This is done to ensure that
the batter doesn't have the afternoon or evening sun in his eyes when he bats.

The pitcher throws the ball facing west. This being the case, when a left-handed pitcher
winds up for his delivery, his throwing arm is facing south. Hence the term "southpaw".
The "paw" refers to the hand of the pitcher.

Grammarian's definition of "kiss": noun, though often used as a conjunction. It is never


declined; it is more common than proper; and it is used in the plural and agrees with all
genders.

What is the difference between "hoard" and "horde"?

Both words are pronounced the same way. They rhyme with "board", "ford", and
"sword". "Hoard" is normally used to describe the accumulation of something for future
use. When you hoard something, you generally store it as a precautionary measure. The
thing that is hoarded could be money, food, etc. The important thing to remember about
hoarding is that it is done in secret. Not many people are aware of the fact that you are
putting something away. The use of "hoard" shows disapproval; it often suggests
miserliness. The word comes from the Old English "hord" meaning "a secret store". A
person who hoards is called a hoarder.

*Merchants who were caught hoarding rice were sent to prison.

*The police found the miser's hoard and distributed it among the poor.

In informal contexts, the word "hoards" can be used to mean "a very large amount."
*We have hoards of time to complete the project.

The word "horde" was first used to refer to nomads — i.e., wandering tribes. Gypsies, for
instance, were referred to as hordes. Nowadays, the word is used to talk about any
disorganised crowd.

*Hordes of football hooligans walked into the club singing loudly.

*I didn't enjoy my vacation. There were hordes of people camped around the lake.

According to some scholars the word comes from the Turkish "ordu" meaning "camp".
They maintain that it is from this Turkish word that we get "Urudu".

What is the meaning and origin of "Barkis is willing"?

The expression first appeared in Charles Dickens' well-known classic "David


Copperfield". Barkis is the name of one the characters in the novel. He keeps sending a
message through David to Clara Peggotty, the maid of David's mother. The message that
David is to give Clara is "Barkis is willing". In other words, Barkis is willing to marry
Clara. The expression is used nowadays to indicate one's willingness or readiness to do
something.

What does "bells and whistles" mean?

Many people when they go shopping for a computer look for a model that contains the
essential features. There are others, however, who are interested in the little extras. They
want to have a model which contains many fancy features; add-ons which are good to
look at, but which serve very little purpose. These rather attractive but inessential features
that you buy along with a gadget are called "bells and whistles".

*You don't need the bells and whistles. They will double the cost.

*Ramesh likes to buy gadgets with all the bells and whistles.

How is the word "idyll" pronounced?

The word can be pronounced in two different ways. The British tend to pronounce the "i"
and the "y" like the "i" in "sit", "chit", and "hit". The Americans, on the other hand, tend
to pronounce the "i" like the "y" in "by" and "my". In both cases, the main stress is on the
first syllable. A short piece of prose which describes a happy scene in the countryside is
usually referred to as an idyll. Nowadays the word is being used to refer to any pleasant
scene or event. When you say that something is "idyllic" what you mean is that it is like
an "idyll". In other words, it is very pleasant and peaceful.

*This would be an idyllic setting for our school.


*He was hoping that he would have an idyllic marriage.

What is the meaning of "keypal"?

This is a word of recent origin. A pen pal is someone with whom you exchange letters. A
"keypal" is someone with whom you exchange emails. He/she is your email pen pal. You
"key" in the messages for this individual.

*I informed all my keypals about the upcoming event.

"Laughter is like changing a baby's diaper. It doesn't permanently solve any problems,
but it makes things more acceptable for a while." — Unknown

Know Your English

"You are late again! Didn't you promise to be... ."

"... .I am sorry. I know I was supposed to come at 11o'clock, but I... ."

"... .it's one o'clock now."

"I know. I have a question. Why do we say o'clock? Where does the `o' come from?"

"The `o' I understand is actually a contraction of `of'. You see in the old days when
someone asked an individual for the time, he would reply `eleven of the clock'."

"So instead of eleven o'clock, they used to say `eleven of the clock'."

"That's right! At times, they dropped `the' and shortened the reply to `eleven of clock'.
After some time, people began dropping the `f ' sound in `of '. So `of clock' became
`o'clock'. Now tell me, why are you late?"

"Sunil and Karuna fought again. This time it was pretty serious. Karuna was so upset that
she stormed out of the house with bag and baggage."

"That sounds pretty serious indeed. But you don't have to say `with bag and baggage'."

"But I have heard many people say `with bag and baggage'."

"That's true. But the correct expression is `bag and baggage'. You don't need `with'."

"I see. So I say, she walked out bag and baggage?"

"That's right. Here's another example. Raju was thrown out of the hotel bag and
baggage."
"I wish we could do the same with some of our crooked politicians. I think it's high time
that we get rid of them."

"It's high time that we got rid of them. Not `get' rid of them."

"But why got?"

"Because when you use `high time' the verb that follows is usually in the past. For
example, it's high time that I went home."

"I see. It's high time Vasundara got married."

"I think it's high time you began studying for your various entrance exams. Anyway, you
needn't worry about Karuna. She has walked out on Sunil before. But she... ."

"... .thrice, actually. I mean three times. Tell me, what's wrong with thrice, though?"

"There's nothing wrong. It's considered rather old fashioned. Native speakers seldom use
the word thrice. It's considered literary."

"So it's once, twice, three times?"

"Yes, that's right. Tell me, what did Sunil do to put Karuna out?"

"To put her out? You mean throw her out of the house?"

"No, no! When you put someone out, what you are doing is irritating or annoying the
individual. That's one of the meanings of the expression. For example, Prabhakar really
put me out when he walked into the house wearing his muddy slippers."

"My neighbour put me out by playing music loudly."

"That's a good example. So what did Sunil do to put Karuna out?"

"I understand that he cracked some joke about women."

"He probably did it to irritate her. He knows that his wife is a die-hard feminist."

"Does die-hard mean staunch or something like that?"

"That's right. A die-hard individual is someone who sticks to his opinions. Doesn't
change them at all. In fact, he doesn't like change. For example, my neighbours are die-
hard conservatives."

"Mine are die-hard Sania Mirza fans."


"It's high time she started performing on the tennis court."

"You're right. Otherwise her next ad might begin with the line, Sania Mirza ko tennis
khelna nahin atha!"

"Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell." — Unknown

Know your English

―Hello! Come in! Come in! What are you doing here so early?‖

―Nandini called and said that her computer was acting up. Thought it was a hardware
problem.‖

―Hardware problem, eh? Knowing Nandini, it‘s probably a wetware problem.‖

―Wetware problem? What does it mean?‖

―The human brain is sometimes referred to as ‗wetware‘. The next time you meet
Nandini, tell her that she needs to update her wetware.‖

―You have a point there. She doesn‘t know anything about computers. In fact, there was
nothing wrong with her computer. As you rightly said, it was a wetware problem. So,
how are things with you?‖

―Things are just great. How about you?‖

―I‘m glad that somebody is feeling great. I bumped into Chandu at the market. He looked
like…‖

―You ran into poor Chandu? Did he look like death warmed over?‖

―Look like death warmed over? Doesn‘t it mean that you want him dead or something
like that?‖

―Of course not! When you say that someone looks like death warmed over, what you
mean is that the person looks terrible ill.‖

―I see. How about this example? I saw Girish at the hospital. He looked like death
warmed over.‖

―Sounds fine! I haven‘t slept in three days. I feel like death warmed over.‖

―Feel like death warmed over? Does it mean you feel extremely tired?‖
―Exactly! It‘s also possible to say ‗like death warmed up‘. They both have the same
meaning.‖

―O.K. Tell me, why does Chandu look like death warmed up?‖

―I‘m told he lost his shirt. Poor chap, he...‖

―He looks like death warmed up because he lost some silly shirt. Is he crazy?‖

―I don‘t think you understand. When you say that someone lost his shirt, what you mean
is he lost everything, including his shirt.‖

―In other words, he is penniless. He has no money.‖

―That‘s right! He is broke. Chandu lost a lot of money in the stock market.‖

―I see. How about this example? My friend Sandeep lost his shirt on some silly dog race.‖

―Sounds good. Do you think I should lend Chandu some money and ask him to…‖

―Go right ahead. It‘s your funeral.‖

―First, you talk about death, and now funeral. What does this expression mean?‖

―When you tell someone that it‘s his funeral, what you mean is that if he does something,
he has to suffer the consequences.‖

―I see. Go ahead, make the presentation without really preparing for it. It‘s your funeral.‖

―I‘m told there are many crocodiles in this part of the river. But if you insist on
swimming, I won‘t stop you. It‘s your funeral.‖

―I think I understand the meaning now. I‘d better go. I promised to meet Dilip at the new
restaurant.‖

―I went there yesterday. It‘s no great shakes.‖

―Meaning it‘s not very good?‖

―That‘s right! According to Ananya the latest Harry Potter book is no great shakes.‖

―That may be true. When it comes to judging restaurants, you‘re no great shakes.‖

“I installed a skylight in my apartment. The people who live above me are furious.” —
Steven Wright
What is the meaning of ‗wake up and smell the coffee‘?

This is an expression that is mostly used in informal contexts. When you tell someone to
‗wake up and smell the coffee‘, what you mean is that you want the individual to be more
aware of what is happening around him. It has the same meaning as ‗get with it‘.

*You don‘t know what an iPhone is! Wake up and smell the coffee.

*The company is in serious trouble. Wake up and smell the coffee.

What is the meaning of ‗akimbo‘?

First, let‘s deal with the pronunciation. The ‗a‘ sounds like the ‗a‘ in ‗china‘; the
following syllable is pronounced like the name ‗Kim‘. The final ‗bo‘ rhymes with ‗so‘
and ‗no‘, and the stress is on the second syllable ‗kim‘. The word is mainly used to refer
to one‘s arm position. When you stand with your arms akimbo, you have your hands on
your hips and the arms are spread out with the elbows pointing outwards. It is a posture
that generally indicates impatience, hostility, or contempt.

*The principal stood, arms akimbo, glaring at the students.

*Standing behind the sofa with arms akimbo, Sheel told the painter what to do.

s it OK to say, ‗Myself is Rajesh‘?

No, it isn‘t; you cannot begin a sentence with the word ‗myself‘. The correct way of
saying this is ‗I am Rajesh‘ or ‗My name is Rajesh.‘ You use ‗myself‘ only when you
have used the word ‗I‘ earlier in the same sentence.

For example, ‗I did all the cooking myself‘ and ‗I am not particularly fond of dosas
myself.‘ You cannot say, ‗Myself did all the cooking‘ or ‗Myself am not particularly fond
of dosas.‘

Can we say, ‗He is a faculty at Osmania University‘?

The word ‗faculty‘ is normally used to refer to all the teachers in a particular department
or university. In this sense, it is like the word ‗staff‘. Just as you cannot say ‗He is a
staff‘, you cannot say, ‗He is a faculty‘. If you wish to refer to a particular individual,
then you have to say, ‗He is a member of the faculty‘ or ‗He is a faculty member.‘

*Eminent faculty members from Harvard will be present at the conference.

*I‘d like all of you to meet the new member of our faculty.
What is the difference between ‗look‘ and ‗see‘?

Both words are used to talk about the different ways we use our eyes. ‗Seeing‘ is a
physiological process, it is something that our eyes do automatically. When you ‗see‘
something, it is not intentional, but accidental. On your morning walk, you may see a
cute little puppy, a man wearing a pink shirt, and an old motorcycle parked next to your
new car. When you went for the walk, it was not your intention to see all these objects.
You saw them because they came in front of you. You couldn‘t avoid noticing them.

‗Looking‘, on the other hand, is an intentional act. When you look at something, you pay
attention. For example, if you look at a puppy, you observe it carefully. You begin to pay
attention to its colour, size, etc.

“In case you’re worried about what’s going to become of the younger generation, it’s
going to grow up and start worrying about the younger generation.” — Roger Allen

What is the meaning of ―take pot shots at someone‖?

In British English, the word ‗pot‘ is used as a verb to mean ―to shoot small birds and
animals without taking careful aim.‖ The reason you don‘t need to aim is because there
are so many birds/ animals clustered nearby, that if you shoot in their general direction,
you are bound to hit something. There is no way that you can miss. Hunters took pot
shots because they wanted to put food on the table; their aim was to fill the cooking pot!
The opposite of ‗pot shot‘, I understand, is ‗fair shot‘; the kind of shot a ‗gentleman
hunter‘ prefers to take. In this case, the hunter decides which animal he wishes to kill,
aims for it, and then shoots. As time went by, the term ‗pot shot‘ began to be applied to
any sort of blow – physical as well as verbal – that was difficult to avoid. The expression
―take pot shots at someone‖ is now used to mean to criticise someone rather unexpectedly
or unfairly.

What is the meaning of ―take pot shots at someone‖?

In British English, the word ‗pot‘ is used as a verb to mean ―to shoot small birds and
animals without taking careful aim.‖ The reason you don‘t need to aim is because there
are so many birds/ animals clustered nearby, that if you shoot in their general direction,
you are bound to hit something. There is no way that you can miss. Hunters took pot
shots because they wanted to put food on the table; their aim was to fill the cooking pot!
The opposite of ‗pot shot‘, I understand, is ‗fair shot‘; the kind of shot a ‗gentleman
hunter‘ prefers to take. In this case, the hunter decides which animal he wishes to kill,
aims for it, and then shoots. As time went by, the term ‗pot shot‘ began to be applied to
any sort of blow – physical as well as verbal – that was difficult to avoid. The expression
―take pot shots at someone‖ is now used to mean to criticise someone rather unexpectedly
or unfairly.

*During the press conference, several reporters took pot shots at the aging actor.
How is the word ‗sang-froid‘ pronounced?

There are several ways of pronouncing this word. ‗Sang‘ is often pronounced like the
word ‗song‘. The ‗fr‘ is like the ‗fr‘ in ‗from‘, ‗French‘, and ‗friend‘; the sound that
follows is like the ‗w‘ in ‗wet‘, ‗well‘, and ‗wish‘. The vowel is like the ‗a‘ in ‗bath and
‗path‘. The final ‗d‘ is silent, and the stress is on ‗froid‘. The word sounds like ‗song-
frwaa‘.

‗Sang-froid‘ is a word of French origin and it means ‗cold blood‘. When a person
displays ‗sang-froid‘ in a crisis, he remains very calm when things around him are falling
apart.

*Though the crowd was extremely hostile, the visiting team showed remarkable sang-
froid.

What is the difference between ‗cronyism‘ and ‗nepotism‘?

Both words are used to show disapproval. If you are accused of nepotism, then you use
your position to promote or help the members of your family; it is favouritism based on
kinship. The word comes from the Latin ‗nepos‘ meaning ‗nephew‘.

*Prema got the job because of nepotism — her father is the CEO of the company!

The word ‗crony‘ (rhymes with ‗pony‘ and ‗Tony‘) is used to refer to a friend with whom
you spend a lot of time. When you accuse someone of cronyism, what you mean is that
the person is using his official position to help his friends.

*Bush and Cheney have often been accused of cronyism.

“People say New Yorkers can’t get along. Not true. I saw two New Yorkers, complete
strangers, sharing a cab. One guy took the tires and the radio; the other guy took the
engine.” —

David Letterman

What is the meaning of ‗tour de force‘?

This is an expression that comes from French, and is mainly used to show emphasis.
When you call someone‘s speech or performance a ‗tour de force‘, what you mean is that
it was outstanding; it was very well done. It is something that is unlikely to be equalled
by others.

*The ageing actor‘s performance as the drunken father is a tour de force.

Is there a sentence that includes all 26 letters of the alphabet?


A sentence which contains all the letters of the alphabet is called a ‗pangram‘. There are
many pangrams; in fact, if you are in the mood, you can create one of your own. The
most famous pangram is the following: ―The quick brown fox jumps over the lady dog.‖

I understand that in the old days when typists wished to check if all the keys were in
working order, they invariably typed this sentence.

What is the meaning and origin of ‗back to square one‘

When you have been working on a problem for a long time, and you are unable to find a
solution, what is it that you normally do? Since you have not been able to make any
progress, you go back to the beginning and start all over again. When you tell someone
that you are ‗back to square one‘, what you mean is that you‘ve returned to the original
starting point. In other words, you are going to begin all over again.

After three days of house hunting, I found one that I really liked. When I went to pay the
advance the next morning, the landlord said that he had decided not to rent the house. So,
it was back to square one.

According to some scholars, this expression was made popular by sports commentators
of the BBC. Since football is a game that is difficult to follow on the radio, what some
enterprising radio commentators did in the early 20th century was to divide the field into
eight squares. The commentators informed the audience of what was happening on the
field by telling them which square the ball was in. On the day of the game, most
newspapers and sports magazines carried a drawing of the playing field with the squares
clearly marked and numbered — this made it easy for listeners to follow the action.
Square one was where the goalie stood. Others believe that the idiom has its origins in
board games like Snakes and Ladders.

Both words are used to refer to a defect in an individual‘s speech. We often meet people
who have difficulty speaking; sometimes, they merely repeat the first sound or syllable of
a word. They are unable to produce anything beyond that. Careful users of the language
maintain that the word ‗stutter‘ is used to refer to a person who has a chronic speech
defect. ‗Stammering‘, on the other hand, is considered temporary. All of us have
‗stammered‘ sometime or the other. Human beings can stammer or stutter; machines only
stutter. Speech therapists in Britain prefer to use ‗stammer‘, while those in America and
Canada prefer ‗stutter‘. Aristotle, Aesop, Darwin, Napoleon, and Marylyn Monroe are
some famous people who stuttered.

“The tongue is the only instrument that gets sharper with use.” — Washington Irving

Know your English

―Looks like some of our judges have been playing a lot of Monopoly lately.‖

―What makes you say that?‖


―They have been giving influential people a free ‗Get out of jail‘ card!‖

―You have a point there. Tell me, how do you pronounce i..n..d..o..l..e..n..t?‖

―The first syllable is pronounced like the word ‗in‘. The ‗o‘ and the ‗e‘ that follow sound
like the ‗a‘ in ‗china‘. The stress is on the first syllable. Do you know what the word
means?‖

―I can guess. According to this article, one usually finds indolent people in government
offices. We all know that government offices are usually full of lazy people. People who
are unwilling to work. Does indolent mean lazy or something like that?‖

―Very good! That‘s exactly what indolent means. It is a formal word for ‗lazy‘. For
example, the indolent husband refused to help his wife clear the dishes.‖

―Good example. Did you see….‖

―Did you manage to watch the two movies you‘d borrowed last week?‖

―I certainly did. The funny thing….‖

―Which one did you like?‖

―Difficult to say. There was very little to choose between them. The two were much of a
muchness.‖

―Much of a muchness? What does the expression mean?‖

―Well, in this case, it means the two movies were very much alike.‖

―I see. So the expression means very similar or almost the same?‖

―That‘s right!‖

―How about this example? According to my father, rock music these days is all much of a
muchness.‖

―I didn‘t know your father listened to rock music.‖

―He listens to it a lot actually. He‘s a great fan of the Rolling Stones.‖

―I‘m sure the youth of today won‘t agree with your father. They probably feel that rock
music…‖

―Tell me, is this word ‗muchness‘ used in any other context?‖


―No, it‘s only used in this expression. Hey, is that a new watch you‘re wearing?‖

―No, it‘s my old one. I seem to have displaced my new one.‖

―You mean misplaced, don‘t you?‖

―What‘s the difference between ‗misplaced‘ and ‗displaced‘?‖

―When you ‗misplace‘ something, you put it in the wrong place, and as a result you are
unable to find it.‖

―But it‘s only temporarily. Later, you do find it. Am I right?‖

―Absolutely! You are unable to find it only for a short while. The word suggests that you
have merely mislaid the object.‖

―I think I understand. My grandmother misplaced her spectacles.‖

―It‘s very difficult to find books in this library because they are always misplaced.‖

―One can also misplace one‘s trust. What this…‖

―Meaning you trust a person who doesn‘t deserve to be trusted.‖

―Exactly! Your trust in Mohan is misplaced.‖

―Sailaja is helping her former boss because of her misplaced sense of loyalty.‖

―Our faith in our leaders is misplaced.‖

―That‘s true! So tell me, what does ‗displaced‘ mean?‖

―We‘ll talk about it some other time. Right now, I have to do something for…‖

―What are you going to do? Play Monopoly?‖

“We’re not retreating. We’re advancing in another direction.” — Douglas MacArthur

Know your English

―You look absolutely exhausted. Busy preparing for your exams?‖

―Not really. My friends and I have been celebrating India‘s series win against England.‖
― Ever since we won the series, I find that many sports writers are using the term ‗Old
Blighty‘ quite frequently. Any idea what it means?‖

―Old Blighty is a slang term for England.‖

―England! But what‘s the connection? Blighty doesn‘t sound anything like England or
Britain.‖

―That‘s true. According to many scholars, the word ‗blighty‘ is actually from Hindi.‖

―From Hindi! Are you sure? I don‘t think a word like ‗blighty‘ exists in Hindi.‖

―You have a point there. The Hindi word that ‗blighty‘ comes from is ‗vilayati‘, meaning
‗foreigner‘. In some dialects of Hindi, the word is pronounced ‗bilayati‘.‖

―So ‗bilayati‘ became ‗blighty‘?‖

―Exactly! The British soldiers in India began to use the word to refer to their own
country. ‗Old Blighty‘ was used as a term of endearment. The term became popular only
during the First World War.‖

―How?‖

―Homesick British soldiers sitting in the trenches in some foreign country began to refer
to Britain as ‗dear Old Blighty‘. Many poets and song writers writing during this period
used this expression as well.‖

―Poets and song writers, eh? They must have made the term even more popular.‖

―They certainly did. Soldiers coined the term ‗blighty wound‘ as well.‖

―What kind of wound was that?‖

―It was a serious wound, one that forced a soldier to leave the front line in order to
recuperate. But it did not leave him a cripple.‖

―In other words, the wound was serious enough to get the soldier sent back home to
England!‖

―Exactly! It was the sort of wound that could send the soldier back to Old Blighty.
Sometimes, the soldiers inflicted the wound on themselves!‖

―Interesting! So tell me, what have you been up to?

―Nothing much actually. Have been keeping my eyes peeled for a two bedroom
apartment.‖
―Keeping your eyes peeled? What does it mean?‖

―When you keep your eyes peeled for someone or something, you remain alert or
watchful. You are on the look out for the person or thing.‖

―In other words, it has the same meaning as ‗keep your eyes open‘?‖

―Yes, more or less. Here‘s an example. If you are planning to cut across the field, please
keep your eyes peeled for stray dogs. They can be pretty vicious.‖

―Tell me, are you getting the raise you‘d asked for?‖

―Not sure as yet. I met my boss yesterday, and he just hummed and hawed.‖

―Hummed and hawed? Never heard that expression before.‖

―When you hum and haw, you talk about something for some time, but you fail to arrive
at a decision.‖

―In other words, you don‘t speak your mind and fail to arrive at a decision.‖

―When you ask Rajesh for something, he hums and haws for several hours before taking
a decision.‖

―That‘s true. I‘d better go. Don‘t want to be late for the one-day match.‖

“Love is an ideal thing; marriage is a real thing. A confusion of the real with the ideal
never goes unpunished.” — Goethe

How is the word ‗ombudsman‘ pronounced?

The ‗o‘ is like the ‗o‘ in ‗hot‘, ‗got‘, and ‗not‘, and the following ‗u‘ sounds like the ‗u‘ in
‗put‘, ‗pull‘, and ‗full‘. The ‗s‘ is pronounced like the ‗z‘ in ‗zoo‘, ‗zip‘, and ‗zap‘, and
the final ‗a‘ is like the ‗a‘ in ‗china‘. The stress is on the first syllable ‗om‘.

An ‗ombudsman‘ is someone who investigates complaints made by people against the


government or any public organisation. He is an independent official who represents the
common man in his fight against the government

*All complaints must be made in writing to the banking ombudsman by three this
afternoon.

The word is Swedish in origin and it means ‗representative‘ or ‗agent‘. I understand that
the word was borrowed into English in the 1960s. The word is being slowly replaced by
‗ombudsperson‘.
What is the meaning of ‗humour me‘?

Sometimes, young children come and tell us tall tales. They narrate events which
couldn‘t have happened. A child may tell us that there was a tiger in the garden and that
he drove it away with a stick. When children tell us such stories, as adults, it is our job to
believe them. Why do we pretend to believe them? Simple. We want to keep the children
happy; we want to ‗humour‘ them. When you tell someone ‗humour me‘, what you want
the person to do is to agree with what you are saying or doing. What you may be saying
or doing may be completely unreasonable, but you want the person to agree with you just
to keep you happy.

*The husband thought it best to humour his wife.

*I hold the purse strings. So you‘d better humour me.

What is the difference between ‗High Commissioner‘ and ‗Ambassador‘?

The functions these two individuals perform are the same; there is no difference. I
understand that both are of the same rank as well. Britain‘s diplomatic missions in
various parts of the world are either called ―High Commission‖ or ―Embassy‖.

The former term is used to refer to Britain‘s diplomatic missions in Commonwealth


countries.

For example, the diplomatic mission in Delhi is called the High Commission, and the
senior diplomat in charge of it is the ―High Commissioner‖.

Since the United States and Russia were never a part of the Commonwealth, Britain‘s
diplomatic missions in these countries are called ―Embassies‖, and not ―High
Commissions‖. The person in charge of one is called ―Ambassador‖.

The ‗u‘ in the first syllable sounds like the ‗u‘ in ‗cup‘, ‗pup‘, and ‗cub‘; the ‗t‘ is
pronounced like the ‗sh‘ in ‗sheep‘, ‗ship‘ and ‗show‘. The ‗ia‘ that follows sounds like
the ‗a‘ in ‗china‘, and the stress is on the first syllable. The word sounds like ‗nupshell‘. It
is considered rather old fashioned, and is mainly used jocularly to refer to things related
to a person‘s wedding ceremony.

*I had to laugh when the old woman referred to her bedroom as her nuptial chamber.

“Seeing a murder on television can help work off one’s antagonisms. And if you haven’t
any antagonisms, the commercials will give you some.” — Alfred Hitchcock

What is the meaning of ‗chequebook diplomacy‘?


This is an expression that was coined during Gulf War I, when Saddam Hussein invaded
Kuwait. In order to ‗liberate‘ the country, George Bush, the current President‘s father,
invited other nations to join him in his effort to overthrow Saddam.

Many countries sent troops, but there were some whose constitution did not permit them
to send troops abroad. Japan and Germany, two of the closest allies of the U.S, were two
such countries. Since they couldn‘t commit troops to the coalition, these two rich nations
did the next best thing – they gave a lot of money for the war effort! This is how
‗chequebook diplomacy‘ came into being.

Nowadays, the expression is used to describe any international policy in which a country
dangles money, in the form of economic aid and investment, to win diplomatic favour.
Another expression that has more or less the same meaning is ‗dollar diplomacy‘.

*China denies using chequebook diplomacy in Africa.

What is the meaning and origin of ‗blurb‘?

When we pick up any book, the first thing we normally look at is the back cover. It
usually contains the publisher‘s/reviewers‘ short, but raving description of the book. This
description, which is always full of praise for both the author and the book, is called a
‗blurb‘.

*According to the blurb, this is the best novel written by the author.

Although the idea of a blurb had been in existence for a long time, the word itself was
coined only in the 20th century. I understand that it was the brainchild of Gelett Burgess,
the well-known author of ‗The Purple Cow‘. When his new book, ‗Are You Bromide?‘
was launched, Burgess persuaded his publishers to do away with the usual sugary write-
up. Instead, he made them paste the picture of a girl whom he named Miss. Belinda
Blurb. The back cover said, ‗YES, this is a BLURB‘; it contained quotes from Ms. Blurb.
As a result, anything that was printed on the back cover began to be called a blurb.
Nowadays, we have blurbs on DVD and VCD covers as well.

What is the difference between ‗infant‘ and ‗toddler‘?

The word ‗infant‘ comes from the Latin ‗in–fans‘ meaning ‗unable to speak‘. So
technically an infant is a child that has not learned to speak as yet. For many native
speakers, ‗infant‘ is a formal word for ‗baby‘; some scholars argue it is an impersonal or
a medical term for ‗baby‘.

A newborn baby or a very young child can be called an infant. In American English, the
word is normally used to refer to a baby, especially a very young one. In British English,
children as old as 7 are called ‗infants‘.
In England, children between the ages of 4 and 7 go to ‗Infant Schools‘. According to
British law, anyone under the age of 18 is an infant!

There is less confusion about the word ‗toddler‘. He is someone who ‗toddles‘. In other
words, he is someone who is just beginning to walk; he takes small, unsteady steps.

“Don’t knock the weather; nine-tenths of the people couldn’t start a conversation if it
didn’t change once in a while.” — Kin Hubbard

What is the meaning of ‗pig out‘?

The pig is an animal that is not associated with anything good. When you call someone a
‗pig‘, you mean one of two things: he eats a lot and is therefore extremely fat, or he is
very dirty. The expression ‗to pig out‘ is normally used in informal contexts to mean, ‗to
eat or drink too much‘.

*On Sundays, the students from the hostel go to the city and pig out on pizzas and
burgers.

How is the word ‗infructuous‘ pronounced?

The first syllable is pronounced like the word ‗in‘, and the second rhymes with ‗truck‘.
The following ‗tu‘ is like the ‗tu‘ in ‗Tuesday‘, and the final ‗ous‘ is like the ‗ous‘ in
‗gorgeous‘, ‗stupendous‘, and ‗fabulous‘. The stress is on the second syllable ‗fruc‘.
‗Infructuous‘ means ‗unprofitable‘ or ‗ineffective‘.

*Harish made an infructuous appeal to the union members to call off the strike.

Newspapers in India use this word frequently. Native speakers of English, however,
seldom use it; in fact, not all dictionaries list it.

Can the word ‗ward‘ be used to refer to one‘s children?

In India, many people do refer to their children as their wards. Native speakers of
English, however, wouldn‘t do this. They would consider ‗ward‘ to be a legal term; a
word that is normally used to refer to a person, especially a child, who is under the legal
protection of a guardian or a court of law.

The Collins Cobuild English Dictionary defines a ward as a child who is placed under the
care of a guardian because his ‗parents are dead‘ or because he is ‗believed to be in need
of protection‘. Teachers in India sometimes refer to their students as their wards. This
would be considered to be rather old fashioned by native speakers.

What is the meaning of ‗vomitorium‘?


If an auditorium is a place where the audience sits, a ‗vomitorium‘ should be a room
where people vomit. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The word comes from the world
of ‗theatre‘. A ‗vomitorium‘ was the passageway that people used to get to their seats in
an amphitheatre. These passages were situated below or behind an individual‘s seat, and
they enabled the members of the audience to enter and exit the theatre very quickly. I
understand that the ‗vomitoria‘ in the Colosseum in Rome were so well designed that it
was possible for 50,000 people to enter or exit the place in 15 minutes. The word
‗vomitorium‘ comes from the Latin ‗vomitus‘, meaning ‗to vomit‘. What is the
connection? When you vomit, the contents of your stomach are thrown out. The
‗vomitorium‘ disgorged or forced out the ‗contents‘ of the theatre — the people inside!
What is the meaning and origin of ‗pay through one‘s nose‘?

When you pay through your nose for something, you pay a heavy price for it. In other
words, you pay too much for it. This informal expression has the same meaning as ‗cost
an arm and a leg‘.

*Never go to that restaurant. You have to pay through your nose for most things.

According to scholars, this idiom has been around for over ten centuries. I understand
that when the Danes ruled Ireland, they imposed heavy taxes on the locals. If an Irishman
failed to pay the tax, he had his nose cut off. In other words, if he didn‘t pay, he had to
literally pay through his nose.

“Just got back from a pleasure trip: I took my mother in law to the airport.” — Henry
Youngman

Know Your English


"Where were you yesterday? I rang the bell for more than five minutes."
"I went to see a man about a dog."
"Dog! You don't like dogs. We all know that!"
"That's true. I'm not a dog lover. So tell me, ."
"No, you tell me. Why did you see a man about a dog? Are you planning to get one?"
"To see a man about a dog is an idiom which is used in informal contexts. You normally
use it when you don't want to tell someone where it is that you are actually going."
"So if you want to keep your destination a secret and don't want to reveal the purpose of
your visit, you say `see a man about a dog'."
"Very good. I don't know where Arvind went. He said that he had to see a man about a
dog."
"Prabhu had been moody all day. He suddenly got up and said that he had to see a man
about a dog."
"This informal expression has another meaning as well. When you say that you are going
to see a man about a dog, it means that you are going to use the bathroom. It's an indirect
way of saying that you wish to use the toilet."
"I see. It's like the expression that ladies often use, `powder my nose'."
"Precisely. When ladies say they wish to powder their nose, what they mean is that they
wish to make use of the bathroom."
"I've heard many heroines use this expression in movies. How about this example? Order
a dosa for me. In the meanwhile, I have to see a man about a dog."
"Good example. I saw your friend Ramesh today. He was all spiffed up. Any particular
reason?"
"Spiffed up? What does it mean?"
"It has the same meaning as `spruced up'. When you spiff something up, you try to make
it look attractive. The expression can be used with people as well."
"I see. Whenever my mother comes to know we are having guests, she really spiffs up the
house."
"A lot of women do that. I was talking to Balu yesterday. He suggested a number of ways
that I could spiff up my presentation."
"Yes, he's really good at spiffing things up, isn't he?"
"He certainly is. So tell me, why has Ramesh spiffed up his wardrobe? Has he found a
job?"
"No, the poor guy is still looking for one."
"Maybe he shouldn't turn down the offers he gets. He should lower his sights."
"Lower his sights? Meaning, Ramesh shouldn't aim as high as he is doing now. He
should set his goals or aims lower?"
"Exactly! If you lower your sights, you expect less from a given situation. With the job
market becoming tight, many people have started to lower their sights."
"My cousin Harish was hoping to become an engineer. He, however, had to lower his
sights when he failed to get good marks in his twelfth class exams."
"The poor chap must be heartbroken. So what does he plan on becoming now?"
"A politician!"
"A politician! He has really lowered his sights."
"Yes, he certainly has. Hey, where are you off to?"
"I need to spiff up and then see a man about a dog."
"If you don't learn to laugh at trouble, you won't have anything to laugh at when you
grow old." - Ed Howe

. What is the meaning of ‗lagniappe‘?

First, let‘s deal with the pronunciation. The ‗a‘ in the first and second syllable are
pronounced like the ‗a‘ in ‗cat‘, ‗bat‘, and ‗fat‘. The ‗g‘ and the final ‗e‘ are silent, and
the ‗i‘ sounds like the ‗y‘ in ‗yes‘, ‗yellow‘, and ‗young‘. The word is pronounced ‗lan-
yap‘ with the stress on the second syllable. I understand that ‗lagniappe‘ comes from the
Spanish ‗la napa‘ meaning ‗the gift‘. The word was originally used to refer to a gift or
something extra that a friendly shopkeeper added to a customer‘s purchase. As time went
on, the word acquired a broader meaning. It began to be used to refer to any unexpected
gift or benefit. Lagniappe is not included in many dictionaries, and its use is mostly
confined to what are known as the ‗Gulf states‘ in the United States — Mississippi,
Louisiana, etc.

*Since we had bought so many items, the shopkeeper included a DVD player as
lagniappe.

The well-known author Mark Twain wrote about this word in his book ‗Life on the
Mississippi‘.
What is the meaning of ‗too clever by half‘?

This is an expression that is used to refer to someone who thinks very highly of himself.
When you say that someone is too clever by half, what you mean is that the individual is
very annoying because he imagines himself to be much smarter than he actually is. You
are implying that he is much too clever for his own good, and this might get him into
trouble one day. The expression is mostly used ironically. It is also possible to say ‗too
smart by half‘.

*You should meet the characters in my class. Some of them are too clever by half.

What is the difference between ‗alternate‘ and ‗alternative‘?

If you play tennis on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, then you are said to
play the game on alternate days. In other words, you don‘t play every day, but on every
other day. The stress is on the first syllable ‗al‘.

*Wouldn‘t it be nice if we had school/college only on alternate days?

The word can also be used to mean ‗one after another‘; when things ‗alternate‘ they take
place in turns.

*It was a movie that made you laugh and cry alternately.

The word ‗alternative‘ means one or the other; it is normally used to refer to a situation
when a choice has to be made. The stress in this case is on the second syllable.

*There‘s something wrong with the car. Our alternative is to take a bus.

Careful users of the language sometimes argue that this word should be used only when
there is choice between two things. This however, is no longer true. You can have several
alternatives.

What is the meaning of ‗wake‘ in the following expression: ‗in the wake of
something‘?

The idiom means coming after something or as a consequence of something. The


‗wake‘ has nothing to do with waking up from sleep. In this case, the word refers to
the ―turbulence left by something moving through the water‖. In other words, the
waves or path that a moving ship or boat leaves behind in the water is a ‗wake‘.

*The tsunami left a trail of destruction in its wake.


“Many a man who falls in love with a dimple makes the mistake of marrying the whole
girl.” — Evan Esar

Know Your English

―What are you doing here so early?‖

―Just came to check on you. How are you feeling today?‖

―Much better, thank you.‖

―Enjoying your forced break?‖

―Enjoying my break? Are you kidding me? I‘m going stir crazy.‖

―I‘ve heard of people going crazy. But what does ‗going stir crazy‘ mean?‖

―Well, my fever has forced me to stay at home. I haven‘t stepped out even once in the
past five days.‖

―And you feel angry because the fever has forced you to stay inside.‖

―Exactly! I feel angry and upset because I have been confined to the house. This forced
confinement is making me very restless.‖

―You probably feel very anxious. I think I understand what ‗stir crazy‘ means now. How
about this example? I promised my sister that I would take care of her kids while she was
on tour. But after a week, I was going stir crazy.‖

―I can well imagine. I would go stir crazy too. I‘m told that people who live in really cold
places get stir crazy during the winter season.‖

―Very good example. Now then, how about…‖

―Tell me, where did this expression ‗stir crazy‘ come from?‖

―It was a slang term used in prison.‖

―Prison? But what‘s the connection? I don‘t…‖

―I understand the slang word for prison is ‗stir‘. Stir crazy was the expression used by
inmates to refer to prisoners who had become mentally unbalanced because of their
confinement.‖

―Being cooped up in prison for a long time had driven them crazy.‖
―Exactly! Later, the expression was used to refer to any kind of confinement. Not just
prison.‖

―That makes sense. Last week you said that you would tell me what ‗displace‘ means.
Can you tell me now?‖

―Why not? I have nothing better to do. When you displace something, you usually take
its place. Most of the time this replacement is done forcibly. For example, a growing
number of employees in the old factory have been displaced by computers.‖

―According to this report, moderates are likely to be displaced by extremists.‖

―We need some change, I guess. There‘s no way that technology will displace teachers in
schools and colleges.‖

―Teachers are always worried about things like that.‖

―I know. Displace has another meaning as well. When a group of people are displaced,
they are forced to move from the place where they are living. The proposed dam will
displace thousands of villagers.‖

―I am joining an organisation that helps people who have been displaced.‖

―That‘s a good idea. In that case, why don‘t you help Nitya with her work?‖

―Nitya? No way! I don‘t think she has all her marbles.‖

―Marbles? What are you talking about? Why should she…‖

―When you say that someone has all her marbles, you mean that she is mentally sound.‖

―I see. My neighbour is nearly 90 years old, but she hasn‘t lost her marbles.‖

―If you are forced to stay in your apartment for another week, I‘m sure you will lose
yours!‖

“When a thing has been said and well, have no scruple. Take it and copy it.” — Anatole
France

Know Your English

―What‘s the matter with you? You look terrible.‖

―I just finished watching the fifth ODI between India and Australia.‖
―I read somewhere that the Men in Blue were ready to rumble in today‘s match. Did
they?‖

―What does the expression ‗ready to rumble‘ mean?‖

―In informal contexts, the word ‗rumble‘ is used to mean ‗to fight‘. When you say that
you are ready to rumble, you mean you are ready to fight.‖

―I see. How about this example? The rival gangs were rumbling in the college canteen.‖

―Sounds good. So tell me, did our players rumble with the Aussies? Did the likes of
Uthappa and company fight fire with fire?‖

―Fight fire with fire! That‘s a joke. Our guys were pathetic. They wouldn‘t have been
able to start a fire even if you had given them a can of kerosene and a matchbox.‖

―The Aussies, on the other hand, came out with guns blazing, did they?‖

―What are you talking about? You know players aren‘t allowed to carry guns on the
field.‖

―No, that‘s not what I meant. When you say that someone came out with guns blazing,
what you mean is that he came out with a lot of force and energy. He simply...‖

―Well, in that case, the Aussies certainly came out with their guns blazing. The match
was more or less over in the first hour of play.‖

―Let‘s hope that the Indians come out with their guns blazing in the next two games.‖

―For that to happen, the so called young guns in the team should put their money where
their mouth is.‖

―What do you mean by that?‖

―When you tell someone to put his money where his mouth is, what you want him to do
is to back his words with action.‖

―In other words, don‘t just talk, perform.‖

―That‘s right! In this context, perform with the bat and ball.‖

―How about this example? I think you should stop complaining about how corrupt our
politicians are. Put your money where your mouth is and contest in the coming
elections.‖

―That‘s a very good example.‖


― I saw your friend Abhay having breakfast in a restaurant this morning. I thought you
said he never eats out.‖

―That‘s strange. It probably means that the domestic engineer is out of town.‖

―The domestic engineer is out of town? What are you talking about?‖

―His wife, Deepa, the domestic engineer is probably out of town.‖

―But Deepa is not an engineer. She is a homemaker.‖

―That‘s right! Another term for a homemaker is ‗domestic engineer‘. Sounds much more
important than ‗homemaker‘, doesn‘t it?‖

―It certainly does. So tell me, is a domestic engineer a woman who looks after the house
and…‖

―A domestic engineer could be a man or a woman. He or she stays at home and makes
sure that things run smoothly.‖

―I see. Do you plan on becoming a domestic engineer after marriage?‖

―No, I plan to join the film industry. I want to try my hand at comedy.‖

―Well, in that case, take some lessons from Sreesanth. He can tell you a thing or two
about how to make funny faces!‖

“Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks.”
— Doug Larson

What is the meaning and origin of ‗foot the bill‘?

If you take someone to a restaurant and tell him that you are going ‗to foot the bill‘, what
you mean is that you are going to pay the bill.

I‘m willing to come along if you promise to foot the bill.

The ‗foot‘ in the expression has nothing to do with our feet. In the 15th century, when a
waiter asked you to ‗foot the bill‘, what he wanted you to do was to add up the figures
and make sure that the total at the bottom or the foot of the bill was correct. The
expression ‗foot up‘, which is no longer in use, was used to mean to ‗count‘ or ‗add up‘.
It was only in the 19th century that the expression ‗foot the bill‘ began to mean what it
does today.

What does a ‗proctor‘ in a university do?


The word is a shortened form of ‗procurator‘ and its meaning varies depending on which
side of the Atlantic you are from. In the U.S, the term is used to refer to someone who
administers tests – he is what we in India call an ‗invigilator‘. His job is to hand out the
tests, inform students when to begin and stop, and ensure that there is no cheating. In
England, a ‗proctor‘ is someone who is appointed by the university and his job is to
ensure that students at the undergraduate level maintain discipline and behave in a
manner that does not bring the university into disrepute. He handles formal complaints by
and against students, looks into accusations of cheating, ragging (hazing, as they call it),
etc. In addition to this, he is present at all university functions.

What is the difference between ‗disbar‘ and ‗debar‘?

When you are ‗debarred‘ from doing something, you are officially prohibited from doing
it – it could be the law that prevents you from doing it or some rule. The word, which is
mostly used in formal contexts, can also be used to mean ‗shut out‘ or ‗exclude‘.

For some strange reason, Teja was not debarred from joining the teaching profession.

The word ‗disbar‘, on the other hand, is mostly used in a legal context. When you
‗disbar‘ a lawyer, you expel him from the Bar. The individual has done something illegal
or against the ethics of the profession, and as a result he is deprived of his right to
practise.

The CEO was unhappy because both his lawyers had been disbarred.

What is the meaning of ‗mala fide‘?

First, let‘s deal with the pronunciation. The first ‗a‘ sounds like the ‗ay‘ in ‗may‘, ‗bay‘,
and ‗hay‘, while the second is like the ‗a‘ in ‗china‘. The ‗i‘ is pronounced like the ‗y‘ in
‗my‘ and ‗by‘ and the final ‗e‘ is like the ‗i‘ in ‗fit‘, ‗kit‘, and ‗pit‘. The word sounds like
‗mayle faidi‘, and the main stress is on ‗fi‘. This is just one of the ways of pronouncing
the word.

The expression comes from Latin; ‗mal‘ means ‗bad‘ and ‗fide‘ means ‗faith‘. ‗Mala
fide‘ means in bad faith. A mala fide action is one that is performed with dishonest intent;
a person purposely attempts to cheat or deceive you. The opposite of ‗mala fide‘ is ‗bona
fide‘ meaning ‗in good faith‘.

“Do you know what it means to come home at night to a woman who’ll give you a little
love, a little affection, a little tenderness? It means you’re in the wrong house, that’s what
it means.”

What is the meaning and origin of ‗pull chestnuts out of the fire‘?

When you pull chestnuts out of the fire, you end up doing someone else‘s dirty work. The
other person is in such a tight spot that you feel compelled to help him, often putting
yourself in danger. Another expression that has more or less the same meaning is ‗cat‘s
paw‘.

As expected, Druv‘s rich parents pulled chestnuts out of the fire for him once again.

The expression has its origins in a fable. In the story, a cat and a monkey are sitting
around a fire watching their master roast chestnuts. The monkey wants to eat the nuts, but
he doesn‘t want to pull them out of the fire because doing so would burn his hands. While
the master is away, the cunning monkey convinces the poor cat to do his dirty work for
him. The cat scoops out the nuts one by one and in the process burns his paw. The selfish
monkey eats all the nuts leaving nothing for the silly cat.

What is the meaning of ‗hunker down‘?

This expression, mostly used in informal contexts, has several different meanings. When
you ‗hunker down‘, you sit on your heels; you squat.

The scouts hunkered down around the campfire and drank hot soup.

The expression can also be used to mean ‗to take shelter‘. The blizzard compelled us to
hunker down in a cave for a couple of days.

During a strike, if one of the two parties ‗hunkers down‘, it very stubbornly sticks to a
position. The party remains adamant and refuses to make any compromise.

As the management hunkered down, unity among the union members began to crumble.

Which is correct? ‗Dravid is a friend of Indra‘ or ‗Dravid is a friend of Indra‘s‘?

The answer is Dravid is a friend of Indra‘s. You are claiming that Dravid is Indra‘s
friend. Although some people say ‗Dravid is a friend of Indra‘, grammarians would argue
that it is wrong. When you say Dravid is a friend of Indra‘s, what you mean is that Indra
has several friends, and Dravid is one of them. Take a look at these examples. ‗She is
Rahul‘s wife‘ and ‗She is a wife of Rahul‘s.‘ The first sentence suggests that Rahul has
one wife, and the second suggests that he has more than one!

The children standing over there are classmates of Ananya‘s.

What is the difference between ‗theism‘ and ‗deism‘?

First, let‘s deal with the pronunciation. The ‗e‘ in both words is pronounced like the ‗ee‘
in ‗feel‘, ‗peel‘, and ‗heel‘. The final ‗ism‘ is like the ‗ism‘ in ‗prism‘, ‗materialism‘, and
‗cronyism‘. The stress in both cases is on the first syllable. ‗Theism‘ comes from the
Greek ‗theos‘, and ‗deism‘ comes from the Latin ‗deus‘. Both words mean ‗god‘. There
are two different views about the creation of the world and God‘s role in it. Deism is the
belief that God created the world, and once He completed the task, He decided to call it a
day! ‗Theism‘, on the other hand, is the belief that God not only created the world, but
also continues to play an active role in the running of it. In other words, He intervenes in
the life of human beings; He is not a mere observer. This is just one of the differences.

“Ethics are so annoying. I avoid them on principle.” — Darby Conley

What is the difference between "sob" and "weep"?

In both cases, tears flow from the eyes. "Weep" is mostly used in writing, and is
considered a literary word. When you say that someone is weeping, you are focussing
on the tears, and not on the sounds that accompany it. Weeping is usually done
silently, which is why you never talk about a baby weeping. Babies cry — a lot of
noise accompanies the tears that flow from their eyes. One can weep for various
reasons; we can weep with sorrow, and we can weep with joy. Sobbing is always
done loudly; it is accompanied by a lot of noise. The heroines in our films sob a lot.
Sobbing involves gasping for breath and this results in a lot of chest heaving. The
word is usually associated with misery; unlike "weep", one cannot "sob" with joy.

What is the past tense of "quit"?

Depending on the context, the word has two possible past tense forms — quit and
quitted. When used to mean, "to leave" you can use both. For example, "Venu
quit/quitted his job and moved to Chennai." The word "quit" can also be used to
mean, "to stop". We can, for example say, "Venu has quit gambling". In this context,
it is incorrect to use "quitted". The word "quitted" is going out of fashion; it is mostly
used in formal contexts.

What is the meaning of "once bitten twice shy"?

If you fall in love with a girl and the girl ditches you, what would your reaction be?
You would probably be really angry, but at the same time you would be scared to fall
in love again. Having had a bad experience previously, you would be reluctant to put
yourself in the same situation again. That's what the idiom, "once bitten twice shy",
means.

*The caterer arrived three hours late last time, so Rama is not hiring him again. I
guess it's a case of once bitten twice shy.
*The last time he ate fish, he almost choked. He's stopped eating fish altogether —
once bitten twice shy.

What is the difference between "impassive" and "impassioned"?

When something bad happens and you remain "impassive" what you are doing is
keeping a wooden face. You are not displaying an emotion of any kind. It could be
you do not feel any emotion, or you have chosen to hide it. The heroes in many of our
movies remain impassive in all situations. They are the strong silent men who remain
unmoved.

*After killing the man with his knife, the hero looked on impassively at the sea.

"Impassioned", on the other hand, means someone who is "full of passion", an


individual who displays intense feeling about something or someone.

*The impassioned speech by the Vice-Chancellor brought the audience to its feet.

What is the difference between "convicted" and "sentenced"?

These are words frequently used in law. Once the lawyers have presented their case,
the judge/jury then makes a decision as to whether the defendant (the individual who
is on trial) is guilty or not. If he is found guilty, he is convicted of the crime that he
has been accused of. A convicted individual is one who has been found "guilty" in a
court of law. Once the defendant has been found guilty, the judge then decides what
his punishment should be. Should the person be sent to prison for life or should he be
hanged? Maybe the person should be made to pay a fine of some sort and then set
free. These are the decisions that a judge has to make once he convicts a person. The
punishment that the judge gives the individual on trail is the "sentence".

What is the meaning of "shimmy"?

Some people when they walk, shake their hips and shoulders side to side. This is what
we mean by "shimmy"; it is a word that is normally associated with dancing.

*As the singer shimmied across the stage, the audience went wild. In American
English, the word is also used in informal contexts to mean, "vibrate or shake".

*The front wheel of Velu's scooter shimmied.

*****
What is the meaning and origin of "ringside view"?

When you have a "ringside view" of an event, you have an excellent view of it. It is
also possible to say "ringside seat".

*Sheel was sitting on the terrace and had a ringside view of the accident.

There are many idioms that come from the sport of boxing, and "ringside view" is one
of them. The "ring" refers to a "boxing ring". If during a boxing bout you are lucky
enough to have a seat close to the ring, you can see all the action very clearly.

How is the word "scourge" pronounced?

The "sc" is like the "sk" in "skin", "skip", and "skill". The following "our" is
pronounced like the "er" in "her", "nerd" and "herd". The "g" sounds like the "j" in
"jam", "jazz" and "jump", and the final "e" is silent. A "scourge" is a whip normally
used to flog people. The word can also be used to refer to a person or a thing. When
you refer to an individual as a "scourge", what you mean is that he is someone who
causes a lot of suffering for others — just like the whip!

*The President wants to put an end to the scourge of terrorism

What is the origin of "yellow journalism"?

When someone accuses a newspaper of "yellow journalism" what they mean is that it
presents the news in a biased manner. It distorts the facts and sensationalises the news
in order to get the public to buy the paper. It attempts to increase its circulation, not
by providing accurate news, but by appealing to the public's curiosity. The term
"yellow journalism" is no longer restricted to newspapers alone, it includes all other
forms of media — television and radio.

*Some of the local newspapers are classic examples of yellow journalism.

The expression was popularised in the late 19th Century in the U.S. Two newspapers,
"New York World", owned by Joseph Pulitzer, and "New York Journal", owned by
William Randolph Hearst, were trying to become very popular among the public by
printing sensational stories. Both newspapers specialised in muckraking. The "World"
had a popular comic strip called "Hogan's Alley" in which the character "Yellow Kid"
appeared. Hearst played dirty and got "Hogan's" creator, R. F. Outcault, to join his
paper. The angry Pulitzer hired another artist and asked him to continue with the
"Yellow Kid". The competition between the two yellow kids led to an all out war
between the two papers. There was a court battle over the copyright, and very often,
street fights broke out between the delivery boys of the rival newspapers. The fight
between Hearst and Pulitzer over the "Yellow Kid" began to symbolise everything
that was wrong with American journalism.
What is the meaning of "watchdog agency"?

Most people keep a watchdog in order to protect their house. When you refer to a
group of people as being a "watchdog" committee or agency, what you are implying
is that they are ensuring that your rights are being protected. They make sure that the
companies, governments, etc, follow the letter of the law, and do not cheat the public.
A watchdog agency looks after the interests of the public.

*We are hoping to set up an anti-drug watchdog agency soon.

What is the meaning and origin of "cut and dry"?

First of all, it is not "cut and dry", but "cut and dried". When you refer to a decision as
being cut and dried what you mean is that it is final; it cannot be changed.

*Bala's plans are cut and dried. You cannot make any changes now.

When you refer to a talk as being "cut and dried" what you mean is that it was
uninteresting.

*Hema's talk was cut and dried. She must brush up on her presentation skills.

According to some scholars the cut and dried material refers to timber. Wood that has
been dried after cutting is ready for use. One can use it to light a fire. Some others
believe that the idiom refers to the cut and dried herbs available in shops, which can
be readily used in one's cooking.

During funerals, people, especially women, cry or wail in a funny sort of way. Is
there a word for this?

Yes, there is. I think the word you have in mind is "ululate". It consists of three
syllables; the first is pronounced like the word "Yule", which rhymes with "mule",
"fuel", and "duel". The second syllable sounds like "you", and the final syllable is like
the word "late". The main stress is on the first syllable. "Ululate" is mostly used in
formal contexts and means to howl or wail. This ritualistic wailing can be performed
at times of mourning or celebration.

*From a distance we could hear the ululation of the mourning women.

*When he heard the news, Anand raised his hands and ululated

What is the meaning of "the worm has turned"?

If you keep bullying someone all the time, at some point he will turn on you. Even the
most mild-mannered person will put up with only so much. Normally, when you refer
to an individual as a "worm", what you mean is that he is an unpleasant character. But
in this idiom, it is gentleness or the harmlessness of the creature that you are referring
to. You are saying that the person is a weak individual.

*I wouldn't mess with Rajeev now if I were you. He has changed. The worm has
turned.

KNOW YOUR ENGLISH

"Did you read the review of your favourite author's latest book in today's paper?"

"Not yet. But I heard that whoever wrote it did a hatchet job on the... ."

"... a hatchet job? Don't think I have heard that expression before."

"Americans usually refer to an axe as a hatchet. When you say that some reporter did
a hatchet job on you, what you mean is that he criticisd you severely in the media."

"Is it fair or unfair criticism?"

"Usually, unfair. It's criticism that ruins your reputation. For example, the reporter did
a hatchet job on the new school. The editor called it investigative journalism."

"How about this example? The news channels did a hatchet job on the Chief
Minister's visit to the drought hit areas."

"Sounds good."

"How would you react if someone were to do a hatchet job on something you had
written?"

"I would be surprised if they didn't! Any news about your father's transfer?"

"Nothing so far. By the way, did Sujatha ask your boss for a transfer?"

"Yes, she did. Believe it or not, he sailed into her for making such a request."

"How did he manage to do that sitting in his office? Don't tell me his office is on a
boat!"

"Don't be silly. One of the meanings of `sail into someone' is to attack or scold
someone. It's an expression usually used in informal contexts."

"I see. So can I say, when the team failed to enter the final, the coach sailed into the
players?"
"You certainly can. Here's another example. The young bride sailed into her husband
for bringing guests unannounced." "Over the years, a lot of teachers have sailed into
me for not doing my homework. Anyway, does this mean that you are not going to
ask your boss for a raise?"

"In the mood that he is in right now, most definitely not. I suspect that he would think
twice about giving a raise. If he does, he will be opening a new can of worms."

"Your boss sounds pretty strange. He `sails into' people and he keeps opening cans of
worms. Tell me, does he sail into people with his can of worms?"

"Very funny. When someone says that he is going to do something, and you tell him
not to open a can of worms, you are warning him not to do anything. You are
suggesting that the situation is so complicated that if he starts dealing with the
problem, he will only succeed in creating more problems for himself."

"In other words, by trying to solve the problem he will be creating more problems?"

"Exactly! Here's an example. Introducing my best friend's sister to my parents has


opened up one big can of worms."

"I bet it did. By appointing someone who doesn't have the basic qualifications for the
job, the Minister has opened a new can of worms for himself and the ruling party.
Does that sound OK?"

"Sounds fine. I don't think you should write about corruption in the police force. You
will be opening a can of worms."

"Don't worry about me, I am a vegetarian. I won't go anywhere near the worms."

"Aren't worms vegetarian?"

What is the difference between "another" and "other"?

"Another" is normally used to mean "one more". For example, you can ask your
mother for another bowl of ice cream, or another plate of puris. The word can be used
with both singular and plural nouns; when used with the latter, it is followed by
"few". The Registrar will be retiring in another few days. The use of the word
"another" also suggests that you have more than two choices available. If you are in a
showroom and you ask a salesperson to show you "another car", you are telling the
individual that you want to see some other car — you are not interested in the ones
that have been shown to you so far.

"Other", on the other hand, suggests that you have only two choices available. For
example, if you were to say, "I am not interested in this car, but am interested in the
other", what you mean is that you like the second car. A car that you have already
seen. The choice here is between two cars.

What is the difference between "prevaricate" and "procrastinate"?

Both words have a lot of things in common. They begin with the letter "p", end with
the suffix "ate", and contain the same number of syllables — four. Perhaps this
explains why some people wrongly use the two words as synonyms. The words have
very different meanings. When you "prevaricate" you avoid telling the truth; you are
evasive. As kids, when we failed to do our homework and our teacher asked us why,
we never gave her the real reason. Most of the time we made no attempt to answer her
question directly — we prevaricated. The word comes from the Latin "praevaricari"
meaning, "Go crookedly." Politicians and lawyers are very good at evading the truth,
aren't they?

*Rani, give me a straight answer. Do not prevaricate.

"Procrastinate", on the other hand, has nothing to do with the truth. When we
"procrastinate", we delay doing something. Indians are born procrastinators; things
never get done on time in our country. Whenever we are given something to do, we
keep putting it off to another day.

*No more procrastination. I want this to be done by tomorrow.

Both words have the main stress on the second syllable, and both are used in formal
contexts.

What is the meaning of "Generation X"?

In North America, people born between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s are
referred to as being part of the "Baby Boomer" generation. Their children belong to
"Generation X". The term is normally used to refer to people born between the mid-
1960s and the early 1980s. There is no agreement among scholars about the exact
years. Generation X has certain negative connotations associated with it. The people
belonging to this generation are supposed to be "materialistic", "apathetic", and
"irresponsible". They lack a sense of direction. All this is reflected in the other terms
used to refer to this generation, "Baby Busters", "Slackers", and "Grunge Kids." The
term, "Generation X" was first used by Paul Fussel in one of his articles. But it wasn't
until 1991 when Douglas Coupland used "Generation X" as the title of his novel that
the term caught on. It became a household word thanks to advertisers. By the way,
any idea what the generation following X is called? Generation Y! Pretty logical,
wouldn't you say?

How is the word "leisure" pronounced?


There are different ways of pronouncing this word. Some people make it rhyme with
the words "pleasure", "treasure", and "measure". Others pronounce the "ei" in the first
syllable like the "ee" in "fees", "bees" and "knees". No matter which way you
pronounce the word the main stress is on the first syllable.

*In her leisure time, Vandana goes sailing.

If you refer to a man as a "gentleman of leisure" what you mean is that he is in a


position where he doesn't have to work. He has enough money to live on. A woman
who is in a similar position is called "lady of leisure."

What is the meaning of "in one's good books"?

When you say that you are "in someone's good books" what you mean is that the
person likes you; he approves of you. Here are a few examples.

*I have been in Ashwin's good books ever since I helped him change his flat tyre.

What is the difference between "choose" and "pick"?

Although many people tend to use the words synonymously these days, careful users
of the language maintain a distinction between the two. Do you "choose" your life
partner, or do you "pick" one? Normally people "choose" their significant other.
Choose suggests that you have opted for the individual after giving the matter some
serious thought. You have weighed the pros and cons of an issue — in this case,
marrying a person — and have arrived at a considered decision. It is voluntary. Pick
also means "selection", but in this case, there may not be any serious thinking
involved. The word suggests that you have opted for something in a very casual
manner — there may not be any decision making or discrimination involved. For
example, when you go to the supermarket and see several cans of the same product,
you normally don't take too much time thinking about which can to buy. Since the
same company has made them, you "pick" the can that is nearest you. Most of us do
not select our life partner in this casual manner. Similarly, we "choose" a present for
someone we really like and care about — we buy the present keeping in mind the
person's likes and dislikes. If we "pick" a present, what we are doing is buying
something in a casual manner. We don't keep in mind the individual's likes and
dislikes; it suggests that we buy the first thing we see in the shop

What is the meaning of "too close to call"?

This is an expression we hear very often from reporters during elections and from
commentators during one-day matches. When you say that a game is too close to call,
what you mean is that it is evenly poised, it is almost impossible to predict which
team will emerge the winner. When used during elections, what it implies is that the
two candidates are running neck and neck and therefore predicting the ultimate
winner is not possible right now.
*The counting is going on. The result is too close to call.

Is it OK to say, "Wish you a Happy New Year 2005"?

No, it is not. When you want to greet someone on the New Year, you say, "Happy
New Year" or "Wish you a Happy New Year". Do not include the actual year — in
this case 2005 — along with the greeting. If you want to give importance to the year,
then say, "Happy 2005" or "Wish you a Happy 2005".

What is the difference between "disposed of" and "disposed off"?

When you get rid of someone or something, you normally say "disposed of", not
"disposed off". "Disposed off" is unacceptable.

I want to know how the murderer disposed of the bodies.

In informal contexts, when you say that you disposed of someone, what you mean is
that you killed him. Perhaps you hired someone to do the killing.

The don asked his hit man to dispose of his former accountant

What is the difference between "blue collar worker" and "pink collar worker"?

A "blue collar worker" works in an industry and is always involved in manual labour.
You will find this individual in factories sweating it out on the shop floor. You won't
find him sitting behind a huge desk in an office. Nowadays, the term can be applied to
both men and women. "Pink collar workers", on the other hand, are always women.
Low paid jobs available in offices and restaurants are usually referred to "pink collar
jobs".

What is the meaning of "blonde moment"?

This is an expression of recent origin. In the United States, for several decades now,
the word blonde has become synonymous with stupidity. Women with blonde hair
have always been perceived as being beautiful but without an iota of intelligence —
beauty without brains. A very common expression associated with them is "dumb
blonde". When you say that you had a "blonde moment" what you are implying is that
you behaved like a typical blonde — you became scatterbrained and did something
silly.

*I don't know why I said what I did. I must have had a blond moment.

What is the difference between "award" and "reward"?

An "award" is a prize that you receive for having done something noteworthy. It is
always associated with something positive; you have done something which people
approve of. It is a sign of appreciation. You could be awarded a medal, a prize, or a
certificate by an organisation for an outstanding achievement. When judges bestow an
award on you, they are honouring you.

*The only award that Neelam ever won was the Pulitzer Prize.

A "reward", on the other hand, is usually associated with something valuable —


money, for instance. You may get a reward for finding and returning someone's
dog/cat. The police may offer a reward for information about an escaped convict. It is
seen as something that you get as just compensation for the good that you have done
or the hard work that you have put in. For example, if you have worked really hard to
write a novel, and later you receive an award for it, you may feel that it is a
recompense for all the work you put in, that it is a reward for your effort. While the
word "award" is associated with only positive things, "reward", on the other hand, can
be associated with both good and bad. One can be rewarded for the evil one does as
well.

How is the word "bonhomie" pronounced?

The "o" in the first syllable is like the "o" in "on", the following "h" is silent. The "o"
in the second syllable is like the "a" in "china" and the final "ie" is like the "i" in "pit",
"kit", and "bit". The main stress is on the first syllable. The word comes from the
French "bon" meaning "good", and "homme" meaning "man". The word is used to
refer to an individual's good nature, his easy and pleasant manner.

*Jai's bonhomie won the hearts of all those who came into contact with him.

What is the meaning of "fall on stony ground"?

When someone gives you a piece of advice and you choose to ignore it, then you can
say that the advice fell on stony ground. In other words, the ground is so hard that
nothing penetrates it. The expression, I understand, comes from the Bible and it has
more or less the same meaning as "fall on deaf ears".

*The Management's repeated requests to call off the strike have fallen on stony
ground.

Is it okay to say, "The teacher was angry on the students"?

There is a tendency among Indians to use the word "on" with "angry", but it is wrong
to do so. You cannot be "angry on" or "pleased on" a person. Both these words are
usually followed by "with".

*The new principal was pleased with the children's performance.

***** ***** *****


"There are three kinds of men who don't understand women — young, old and middle
aged." — Unknown

KNOW YOUR ENGLISH

"Looks like our team snatched another draw from the jaws of victory."

"Yes, Ganguly and his men seem to specialise in that. I am sure your cousin, Prasad,
the dyed-in- the-wool cricket fan had a lot to say about the first test."

"My cousin is very much alive. He did not die in any wool. What are... ."

"I did not mean d..i..e..d, but d..y..e..d. When you refer to someone as being "dyed-in-
the-wool" what you mean is that he or she has very strong opinions about something.
Opinions that are not easily changed."

"In other words, the person is very stubborn. His beliefs cannot be changed."

"I guess you could say that."

"My cousin Vindya is a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist. She believes that a woman's


place is in the kitchen."

"Good grief! Where did she get such an old fashioned idea? I understand that my
grandfather was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative."

"My neighbour claims to be a dyed-in-the-wool communist. But he lives in a huge


house and drives a Benz."

"Some communists in our country do that! Tell me, what is the origin of `dyed-in-the-
wool'?"

"I understand that wool that is dyed before it is spun into yarn retains its colour. The
colour becomes permanently fixed. Anyway, tell me what did Prasad have to say
about the match?"

"He said that someone should have told Tendulkar to score quickly."

"No one could get in touch with Sachin. Since he was performing at the crease, he
had his cell switched off!"

"Very funny! What was your reaction to the draw?"

"Well, after the first drinks interval, I kind of sensed that our overpaid underachievers
weren't going to win. So I started channel hopping."
"Channel hopping? Does it mean the same thing as channel surfing?"

"Yes, that's right! When you channel surf or hop, you keep switching from one
channel to another using the remote control."

"Mohan constantly channel surfs. You can't watch any programme with him."

"My constant channel hopping drives my mother up the wall."

"I can imagine. Your mother wants everything just right. She... ."

"... .she is a bit of a control freak, isn't she?"

"You are calling your mother a freak? How can you do that?"

"All I am saying is that she is a control freak. In other words, she likes to be in total
command of a situation. She feels this... .."

"... she has an obsessive need to have control over herself and others around her?"

"Exactly! Control freaks need to feel they have control over everything around them.
Including the people. They must be in total command of the situation. I am told that
Anand's wife Sonia is a control freak."

"Oh that she is. How about this example? My father's new boss is a control freak and
he has made life miserable for everyone."

"Sounds good. I don't think I would like to work for a control freak."

"I don't think I would either. To tell you the truth, I just don't want to work!"

"That sounds like you."

***** ***** *****

"I love being married. It's so great to find that one special person you want to annoy
for the rest of your life." — Rita Rudner

S. UPENDRAN

What is the meaning of "on a wing and a prayer"?

If you say that you are writing an entrance exam "on a wing and a prayer", what you
mean is that you are not confident that you will pass. You are hopeful, but chances
are you are unlikely to succeed. You are relying more on luck, rather than your
ability.
*Anju was playing the game on a wing and a prayer. She had no idea what she should
do to win.

*Raju is taking the interview on a wing and a prayer.

The expression became popular during World War I. The story goes that a pilot
managed to land his plane successfully even though one of his wings had been badly
damaged. When his friends asked him how he had managed to land his crippled
plane, the pilot replied that it was his prayers that kept the aircraft aloft. To which one
of his fellow pilots quipped, "A wing and a prayer brought you back!"

What does "Rx" stand for in a doctor's prescription?

Many words commonly used in medicine come from Latin. The Rx is the
abbreviation of "recipo" meaning, "take". The doctor is giving you a recipe for your
cure and he wants you to take it! If you look at a doctor's prescription carefully, you
will find that a line runs across the foot of the letter R. This, I understand, is actually
the symbol of the Roman god of medicine, Jupiter. All medicines come under his
protection. That's understandable, I guess. Given the illegible manner in which some
doctors write their prescriptions, we need all the protection we can get!

How is the word "peccadilloes" pronounced?

The first syllable is pronounced like the word "peck" and the following "a" is like the
"a" in "china". "Dill" rhymes with "pill", "chill", and "fill", while the final "oe" is like
the "o" in "go", "so", and "no". The main stress is on the third syllable. A "peccadillo"
is a minor sin or fault.

*The star's latest extra marital peccadillo didn't go down well with his fans.

What is the difference between "acquittal" and "exoneration"?

Very often an innocent man is accused of a crime and dragged to court. After the
judge has heard both sides of the case, he usually finds him not guilty; the judge
acquits the man of the crime. This formal declaration made by the judge in a court of
law is called an acquittal. The "a" in the first and final syllable is pronounced like the
"a" in "china". The second syllable, which has the main stress, is pronounced like the
word "quit". *The trial resulted in an acquittal for the three men charged with first-
degree murder.

The word "exoneration" has more or less the same meaning as "acquittal". When a
judge exonerates someone of something, he is pronouncing the person not guilty. He
doesn't find any evidence that the accused has done anything wrong. Unlike the word
"acquittal", someone other than a judge can exonerate a person. For example, in
government offices whenever something goes wrong, a committee is formed to
determine the causes. The chairperson is also asked to find out if any particular
individual is to be blamed for the failure. If the committee finds that no one is to be
blame, then everyone is exonerated. The official report that the person in authority
writes exonerates everyone.

*The long awaited report exonerated the teachers.

What is the difference between "beautiful" and "pretty"?

Both words are normally used to refer to the pleasing appearance of the face —
usually that of women. Beautiful is the stronger word of the two. When you say that
something is "beautiful" what you mean is that it is very close to perfection — at least
according to the person looking at the object. Remember, beauty lies in the eye of the
beholder. Beauty is subjective, what is considered beautiful in one culture may not be
considered beautiful in another. One can use the word "beautiful" to talk about things
that can be seen. For example, you can refer a woman's face as being beautiful, a
house as being beautiful, and a scene as being beautiful. In fact, you can even use the
word with things that cannot be seen. For example, you can talk about a "beautiful
plan" or a "beautiful smell". The word "pretty", on the other hand, is not as
complimentary as beautiful. When you refer to a woman as being "pretty" what you
mean is that she is attractive; she is graceful and full of life, but lacks the perfection.
She doesn't have the qualities to make her beautiful. Pretty is seldom used with
people or objects that are big; the word is usually restricted to objects that are small.
You cannot refer a 30-storey building as being a "pretty building". You can talk about
a "pretty house" or "pretty shoes", but not a pretty building. Similarly, a woman who
is big built can be "beautiful", but not "pretty". The word "pretty" suggests that the
person or object is pleasant to look at, but not necessarily impressive.

What is the meaning of "set the cat among the pigeons"?

What would happen if you were to set a cat loose among the pigeons? How do you
think the birds would react? They would be pretty worried, wouldn't they? The
presence of the cat would create a great deal of disturbance. When you set a cat
among the pigeons, you say or do something suddenly or unexpectedly. This often
leaves the people worried or angry. It is also possible to say, "put the cat among the
pigeons."

*The principal set the cat among the pigeons when he informed the students that the
annual day was likely to be cancelled.

What is the meaning of "desk jockey"?

Anyone whose job involves sitting behind a desk most of the time can be called a
"desk jockey." The individual remains glued to his desk most of the time. Bank
officers, accountants and most government officials can be called "desk jockeys."
These people are either constantly shuffling papers or on the phone most of the time.
If you are a "desk jockey", maybe you should consider calling yourself a "D.J". Who
knows, people may start looking at you differently!

*Zaheer's father is a desk jockey in the new pharmaceutical company.

How is the word "voyeurism" pronounced?

The "v" sounds like the "v" in "vet", "vest", and "veil"; the following "oy" is like the
word "why". The "eu" in the second syllable is pronounced like the "a" in "china" and
the final "ism" is like "ism" in "prism", "fundamentalism", and "cubism". The main
stress is on the first syllable "voy". The Americans tend to pronounce the word
differently. They pronounce the "voy" like the "voy" in the word "voyage". The
following "eur" is like the "er" in "herd", "her", and "nerd". The main stress, in this
case, is on the second syllable.

―Face the music‖

When you decide to do something on your own and everything goes completely wrong,
how do people react? Usually they criticise you; sometimes, they even punish you. When
you ―face the music‖, you accept the criticism or punishment that is in store for you. In
other words, you take responsibility for your mistakes.

*The partners ran away and poor Venu was left to face the music. *Listen Meera, sooner
or later you will have to face the music.

There are several explanations as to the origin of this idiom. According to some scholars,
it comes from a practice that was common in the British military. When an officer was
court-martialed, the charges against him were read out for all to hear. The man was made
to stand in front of the military band and while the charges were being read out,
drummers used to tap their drums. Since the prisoner was facing the band and the drums
were being played, he was literally ―facing the music‖. This practice of tapping the drums
while the charges were read out gave rise to another expression as well — ―drummed up
charges‖.

―Rendezvous‖

When you have a rendezvous with an individual you have a meeting with him at an
appointed time. The word is used in formal contexts.

*This coffee shop has become a rendezvous for college students.


The ―e‖ in the first syllable is like the ―o‖ in ―on‖, ―don‖, and ―con‖. The ―e‖ that follows
in the second syllable sounds like the ―i‖ in ―it‖, ―hit‖, and ―fit‖. The final ―ous‖ sounds
like the ―oo‖ in ―cool‖, ―pool‖, and ―fool‖. The ―z‖ is silent and the main stress is on the
first syllable.

―nought‖ and ―naught‖ – difference

As far as the pronunciation is concerned there is no difference. Both words are


pronounced like the word ―not‖. Careful users of the language use ―nought‖ to refer to
the number ―zero‖. The word is used mostly in British English; Americans do not employ
it at all.

*Our star batsman scored a nought in the first innings. *How many noughts are there in
one million?

Both ―naught‖ and ―nought‖ can be used to mean ―nothing‖. One way to remember the
difference between the two words is that the word meaning zero is spelt with an ―o‖ —
which looks like zero! When you make an effort to do something and it doesn‘t succeed,
you can say that your efforts have come to naught/nought.

*His attempts to overthrow the President came to naught. *All her efforts came to naught.

Some people think that ―naught‖ and ―nought‖ are old fashioned. Did you know that
―naughty‖ and ―naught‖ are related? The original meaning of a ―naughty child‖ was a
―good for nothing child‖.

Which is correct? ―Curd‖ or ―curds‖?

Both are correct. Usually in speech, we use the plural ―curds‖. Remember the nursery
rhyme ―Little Miss Muffet‖? She was sitting on her tuffet and eating her ―curds and
whey‖. We ask someone whether he would like to have ―curds‖. When the word is used
before a noun, it has to be ―curd‖ and not ―curds‖. We ask someone if he would like to
have ―curd rice‖ or ―curd cheese‖. In both these cases, the word ―curds‖ cannot be used.
Americans do not use ―curd‖, they prefer to use the word ―yoghurt‖ instead.

Is it correct to say, ―Both Rahul as well as Peter live in Hosur‖?

No, it is not. In such a sentence you can either use ―both‖ or ―as well as‖. You cannot
include the two in the same sentence. You can say, ―Both Rahul and Peter live in Hosur‖
or ―Rahul, as well as Peter, lives in Hosur‖. Notice that in the second case, the verb is
―lives‖ and not ―live‖. When you use ―as well as‖ the verb that follows usually agrees
with the noun that precedes ―as well as‖ — especially when ―as well as‖ is separated by
commas.

*The teacher, as well as the students, is going to Chennai.


*The students, as well as the teacher, are going to Chennai.

―square meal‖

A square meal, as you probably know, is a nutritious meal; one which is big enough to
satisfy your hunger. In India, we are often told that we must have three such meals every
day! The origin of the expression dates back to the 18th century when living conditions
on ships were terrible. British sailors were given very little to eat. Breakfast and lunch
consisted of a few slices of bread and a beverage. Dinner, however, was something more
substantial; it included meat and a few other items. Unlike breakfast and lunch, dinner
was served on a tray. Guess what the shape of the tray was? Yes, it was square. Hence the
expression, ―square meal‖. This is one of the theories going around.

How should you greet a couple after they have been married for a month?

Native speakers sometimes talk about a ―one month anniversary‖. So I suppose you could
wish the couple a ―Happy one month anniversary‖. This seems to be a contradiction
though. We normally associate the word ―anniversary‖ with events that occur every year
and not every month. I don‘t think there is a special way to greet someone who has been
married for just 30 days. If a couple succeeds in staying together for a year, then you can
wish them a ―Happy Cotton Wedding Anniversary‖. On this day, you are supposed to
present the couple with things made of cotton.

Is ―tiffin‖ an English word?

Well, the word is included in many dictionaries. Most of them state that it is a word of
Anglo Indian origin. Native speakers of English, however do not use this word to refer to
a light meal. They prefer to use the word ―snack‖ instead of ―tiffin‖. According to some
scholars, ―tiffin‖ comes from ―tiff‖. One of the meanings of ―tiff‖ in British English is ―to
sip or drink‖. Did you know that Tiffin is also the name of a place?

Brouhaha

The word comes from the French ―brouhaha‖ meaning ―noisy chattering‖. The word
became popular in English after the Second World War. Nowadays, the word is normally
used in informal contexts to mean a commotion or an angry complaint about something.

*There is a report on the recent brouhaha over the non-payment of the bonus.

The first syllable ―brou‖ is pronounced like the word ―brew‖, and the ―a‖ in the following
two syllables sounds like the ―a‖ in ―art‖, ―part‖, and ―cart‖. The British put the stress on
the first syllable, while the Americans place it on the second.

―affect‖ and ―effect‖


When something ―affects‖ you, it influences you. The word is usually used as a verb.

*The unusually hot weather affected people in different ways. *The doctor said that the
disease had affected Dilip‘s liver.

The word ―effect‖ can be used as a noun and a verb. An ―effect‖ is a change that has been
brought about by something else.

*He is studying the effect of TV violence on child behaviour. *The rising fuel prices had
an immediate effect on the economy.

When you ―effect‖ something, what you are doing is bringing about changes. Example,
‗‘The Prime Minister has effected many changes by introducing the bill‖.

The expression ―have an effect on‖ has the same meaning as ―affect‖. Example, ‗‘The
drinking has had an effect on his liver‘‘.

―Keep it under your hat‖

When someone tells you something and then follows it up by saying, ―keep it under your
hat‖ what he wants you to do is to keep the information to yourself. The information is to
be kept secret; if the secret stays under your hat, it stays in your mind.

*I have some interesting news. I‘ll tell you, if you promise to keep it under your hat.
*Raju has been fired. But keep it under your hat.

In the old days in Britain, both boys and men used to wear hats. Some of the hats had
secret compartments in them. Whenever a man carried something important, he
invariably hid it in them. For example, when a man wanted to send a letter to his beloved,
he hired a small boy from the streets. The boy was given the letter and it was his job to
give it to the girl without her parents being aware of it. In order to ensure that he didn‘t
lose the letter and was in a position to give it to the girl without her parents finding out,
the boy used to hide it under his hat!

―contagious‖ and ―infectious‖

A disease that is ―contagious‖ is usually passed on from one individual to another


through touch — the contact could be with the individual who has the disease, or with an
object that the individual has touched. Measles and chicken pox, I am told, are
contagious.

‖Infectious‖ suggests that the disease is either air-borne or water-borne; one doesn‘t need
to be in direct contact with the infected individual. The germs that invade your body
multiply, causing the body to become weak.
Both words can be used figuratively as well. For example, one can talk about ―infectious
enthusiasm‖ or ―contagious enthusiasm‖. You can also refer to someone‘s laughter being
―contagious‖ or ―infectious‖. In both these cases, the words can be used interchangeably.

―He is honest‖ and ―He is being honest‖

The first sentence implies that he is a trustworthy individual. Honesty is ingrained in him;
it is not something temporary. He is a dependable being, one who doesn‘t lie.

When you say that he is being honest, what you are implying is that he is telling the truth
in this particular case. For example, if you say, ―Radha is being honest about the
incident,‖ what you are saying is as far as the incident is concerned she is telling the
truth. She may not be telling the truth about other things, but as far as the incident goes,
she is. Radha may not tell the truth all the time, but she is telling the truth in this case.

Is it OK to say, ―Cut jokes in class‖?

In India everyone ―cuts‖ jokes. Native speakers of English, however, do not use the word
―cut‖ with jokes. They prefer to ―tell‖, ―crack‖, or ―share‖ a joke.

―netizen‖

We all know what ―citizen‖ means. Well, a ―netizen‖ is a citizen of the Internet; he is a
citizen of the Internet community. The word was coined by Michael Hauben in 1992.
Another word which has the same meaning is ―cybercitizen‖.

―incommunicado‖

When you are held incommunicado, you are not allowed to be in contact with others.
You are kept in a place where you cannot see or talk to anyone. It‘s like being in solitary
confinement. Very often, people choose to be incommunicado. In this case, they do not
wish to be disturbed by others; they want to be left alone.

*I am told that many prisoners are held incommunicado. *Yogesh has gone to some
remote village. He will be incommunicado for a few days. *Till I finish this project, I
wish to be incommunicado.

The first syllable is like the word ―in‖ and the following three syllables sound like the
first three syllable of the word ―communicate‖. The ―a‖ sounds like the ―a‖ in ―bath‖,
―path‖, and ―half‖; and the final ―o‖ is like ―o‖ in ―go‖, ―so‖, and ―no‖. The main stress is
on the fifth syllable ―ca‖.

―pie in the sky‖

If you come up with a plan and someone says that it is nothing more than pie in the sky,
what he means is that though the plan looks good on paper, it is unlikely to succeed. In
other words, your plans will never be realised. A pie in the sky is the reward that you are
hoping to get some time in the future. Chances are that it will not happen. This is an
expression mostly used in informal contexts.

*Rajeev‘s plans of setting up his own business are nothing more than pie in the sky.
*Jai‘s ideas about reforming the tax system are nothing more than pie in the sky.

It is believed that the expression was made popular in the U.S. by the radical labour union
organiser, Joe Hill.

―Cut no ice with somebody‘‘

When you tell an individual something and it cuts no ice with him, it means it has no
effect on him. He doesn‘t change his mind.‖

―In other words, the excuses that I offered cut no ice with my new teacher.‖

The romantic sob story cut no ice with the audience.‖

Ice cold

―When you say that someone is ice cold, what you are implying is that the individual
shows no emotion. He shows no feelings at all. He is not at all friendly.‖ ―In other words,
there is no warmth in a person who is ice cold. There is a total lack of feeling.‖

―This expression `ice cold‘ has a negative meaning. For example, the killer‘s eyes were
ice cold.‖

―I asked Jeevan several questions and all I got in response was an ice cold stare.‖

Ice cool

When someone remains ice cool in a difficult situation, he remains very calm. You
admire him because he remains unruffled. ―In movies, the hero always remains ice cool.‖
―During the penalty shootout, the goalkeeper remained ice cool and managed to bring off
two brilliant saves.‖

Put something on ice / put something on backburner

When you put something on ice, you are postponing doing it.‖ ―In other words, you are
putting the plan on hold.‖

I am afraid we‘ll have to put your project on ice for a while.‖

By the way, to put something on ice has the same meaning as to put something on the
backburner.‖
―I think we should put cricket on the backburner for some time. I am sick and tired of the
game.

―I work for NATO‖ or ―I work for the NATO‖?

Well known organisations like the United Nations, British Broadcasting Corporation and
Federal Bureau of Investigation are usually preceded by the definite article. The article is
used even when the names have been abbreviated. If the abbreviated form of an
organisation can be pronounced as a word, then the article is not required. For example,
NATO and OPEC are usually pronounced as a word. In such cases, the article is not

―skulduggery‖

The first syllable is like the word ―skull‖ and the second is pronounced like the word
―dug‖. The ―e‖ is like the ―a‖ in ―China‖, while the final ―y‖ is like the ―i‖ in ―hit‖, bit‖,
and ―sit‖. The main stress is on the second syllable ―dug‖.

The word is mostly used in formal contexts, and it is used to refer to dishonest activities
that an individual indulges in, in order to get ahead in life. Americans spell the word
―skullduggery‖.

*There is so much skulduggery going on, I don‘t trust my friends anymore. *The
promising batsman‘s career was ruined by political skulduggery.

Is it OK to say ―Happy bon voyage‖?

When you wish someone ―bon voyage‖, you are wishing the individual a good journey.
There is no need to say, ―Happy bon voyage‖. If you want to use the word ―happy‖, then
simply say, ―Happy journey‖.

―Dead cheap‖ / ―dirt-cheap‖

Both American and British dictionaries list ―dirt-cheap‖. When you say that you bought
something ―dirt-cheap‖ what you are implying is that you bought it extremely cheap; in
other words, the thing you bought was as cheap as dirt.

*Savithri managed to get the house dirt-cheap. *The young couple sold me the car dirt-
cheap.

The word ―dead‖ is used in British English in informal contexts to mean ―very‖.
Therefore it is possible to say that something was ―dead cheap‖. It can be used with other
words as well.

*I wouldn‘t buy that house even if it were offered to me dead cheap.


―Pay through one‘s nose‖

When you pay through your nose for an object, what you are doing is paying too much
for it. The expression is mostly used in informal contexts.

*Raju fell in love with the old car. He was willing to pay through his nose for it. *I had to
pay through my nose for those tickets.

According to some scholars, the expression ―pay through one‘s nose‖ came into use when
the Vikings ruled over much of Ireland between the Ninth and 10th Centuries. The rulers
apparently levied a ―nose tax‖ on the Irish. The people who did not pay the tax were
punished by having their nose slit! The poor Irish were forced to pay a lot of money just
to keep their nose intact!

thereby hangs many tales‖

The correct expression is ―thereby/therein hangs a tale.‖ When you have said something
and then follow it up with this expression, what you mean is that there is an interesting
story to be told about the incident. Here are a few examples.

*Janaki has eloped with the driver. Thereby hangs a tale. *Vasu has decided to move out
of his parents‘ house, and thereby hangs a tale. *Phyllis didn‘t get promoted, therein
hangs a tale.

Is it OK to say, ―revert back‖?

Since the word ―revert‖ means ―to go back‖, it is unnecessary to use ―back‖ with revert.
Similarly it is unnecessary to use ―back‖ with ―return‖. We often hear people say, ―I
returned back to Delhi in a week‘s time.‖ The word ―back‖ is not required in the
sentence.

*The depressed young man reverted to smoking heavily. *Once she landed in the States,
Renu reverted to her strange accent. *I returned home at six o‘clock.

Is it OK to use the word ―ranker‖ to mean someone who has got a good rank?

In our country, whenever someone does well in an exam and gets a rank, he is usually
called a ―ranker‖. Makes sense, doesn‘t it? After all, someone who plays is a ―player‖, a
man who smokes is a ―smoker‖, and a man who drives is a ―driver‖. Therefore the boy
who gets a good rank in an exam should be called a ―ranker‖. Unfortunately, when it
comes to language, logic doesn‘t always work especially in the case of English. We don‘t
call someone who cooks a ―cooker‖, do we? Similarly, someone who does exceedingly
well in an exam is not called a ―ranker‖ — at least not by native speakers of English.
Dictionaries define the word ―ranker‖ as a commissioned officer who has been promoted
from the enlisted status.
―Show someone the door‖ and ―show someone to the door‖?

When you ―show someone to the door‖, what you are doing is seeing him off at the door.

Here are a few examples. *Uma always makes it a point to show her guest to the door.
*After the meeting, Raju showed me to the door. *I told Sandeep that he didn‘t have to
see me to the door.

When you show someone the door, you are forcing the individual to leave. You are
asking the person to get out. *When the students misbehaved, the teacher didn‘t hesitate
to show them the door. *The gatecrashers were shown the door in no uncertain terms. *If
you don‘t behave Reema, I‘ll have to show you the door.

Next Entries »―disc jockey‖

Not many of us listen to the radio these days; most of us are glued to the TV. This is what
happened in the United States as well in the 1940s; the radio took a back seat to
television. With the exception of news, all other popular radio programmes made a
beeline for the idiot box. In order to win back some of its old audience, radio stations
began to play recorded songs. They hired individuals who not only knew about music,
but also had the gift of the gab to keep listeners entertained. These people became known
as ―disc jockeys‖.

Why this term? In the U.S, vinyl records were called ―discs‖. As for the word ―jockey‖,
you probably know it can be used both as a noun and a verb. The noun refers to a
professional horse rider. When you ―jockey a horse‖ what you are trying to do is steer or
direct it into a winning position. Similarly, the disc jockey was trying to direct the taste of
the public as far as music was concerned. By playing some songs repeatedly, he jockeyed
(influenced) public taste in music. The records he played on the air sometimes became
big hits. As time went by, the word ―jockey‖ began to be used with individuals belonging
to other professions: ―plow‖ jockey (farmer), jet jockey (pilot), typewriter jockey (typist),
etc.

―peripheral‖

The ―i‖ in the second syllable is like the ―i‖ in ―sit‖, ―bit‖, and ―kit‖, and the following
―ph‖ sound like the ―f‖ in ―fit‖, ―fill‖, and ―feel‖. The other three vowels in the word are
pronounced like the ―a‖ in ―china‖. The main stress is on the second syllable.

When you refer to an activity as being peripheral, what you mean is that it is not very
important when compared to other activities. This is one of the meanings of the word.
Here are a few examples. *As far as I am concerned, cricket should be made peripheral to
other activities. *We have decided to contract out some of our peripheral activities like
training etc. *In my opinion, history is peripheral to the debate.

―honourable‖ and ―honorary‖


An ―honorary‖ degree is a degree that is given to you as an honour; you haven‘t really
worked for it. In other words, you haven‘t really earned it.

The word ―honorary‖ has another meaning as well. When you hold an ―honorary‖
position in an organisation, you do not get paid for the work you do. In other words, you
offer your services for free.

*The Prime Minister was awarded an honorary doctorate. *Jai is the honorary President
of his old college. *Nirmala is the honorary secretary of the club.

When someone does something ―honourable‖, he does something that is worthy of


honour; he does something that is commendable or noble.

*According to Mani, acting is not an honourable profession. *The Chief Minister did the
honourable thing by resigning. An honourable politician is an oxymoron.

These are just some of the differences between the two words.

―Cult figure‖

A ―cult figure‖ is an individual who is very popular among a particular group of people.
The word can be used with objects as well.

*After his death, James Dean became a cult figure. *Sachin Tendulkar is a cult figure
among school children in India. *Sorry Shyam, I don‘t think you will ever become a cult
figure

―more than one way to skin a cat‖

When you say, ―there‘s more than one way to skin a cat‖ what you mean is that there are
several different ways of achieving something. In other words, there is more than one
way of doing something. The expression is often used humorously.

Here are a few examples. *You don‘t have to shout at Kalyan, but you can make it
obvious to him that you are disappointed with what he did. There‘s more than one way to
skin a cat.

According to some scholars, the ―cat‖ referred to in the expression is the ―catfish‖. I
understand that its skin is very tough; it has to be removed to make the fish edible.

―I go to school‖ and ―I go to the school‖?


The first sentence ―I go to school‖ suggests that you are a student. The noun ―school‖
when used without an article indicates that you are thinking of school as an institution, as
a place of study, rather than as a building.

Similarly, when you say, ―Mohan was in hospital when the fire broke out‖ what you are
implying is that he was a patient, and not a visitor.

In the sentence, ―I go to the school every day‖, you are thinking of ―school‖ as a building.
Perhaps, you have a child in school and you go there every morning to drop him off. You
are not going there as a student.

When you say, ―Mohan was in the hospital when the fire broke out‖ what you mean is
that he was in the building, but not necessarily as a patient — perhaps he was just visiting
someone.

What is the expansion of e.g?

It comes from the Latin ―exempli gratia‖ which means ―for example‖.

―center‖ and ―centre‖

There is no difference between between ―center‖ and ―centre‖. The British spell it
―centre‖ and the Americans spell it ―center‖. There are a number of words which are spelt
in this manner. The following words are spelt with an ―er‖ in American English — fibre,
sombre, and theatre.

The Hindu- ‗Know Your English‘ Series, July 5, 2004.

Usage of ―etc‖

Books on English usage suggest that ―etc‖ can be used with one item or more than one.
The rule is when you use ―etc‖ after a single item, you don‘t put a comma before it.
When you use it with more than one item, a comma is used. Some people however argue
that one item lists should be avoided whenever possible.

Here are a few examples.*Venu doesn‘t like cats etc. *Rahul is an expert on diet etc.
*Sheba has interest in many things — music, dance, tennis, etc.

The important thing to remember is that the word ―etc‖ cannot be preceded by ―and‖
because ―et‖ in ―et cetera‖ means ―and‖. It is therefore incorrect to say, ―Rowdy Raji
likes idli, wada, dosa, and etc.‖ Some people argue that the word should be used with
things, and not with people. They maintain that sentences like the following should be
avoided: ―Sarita, Ganesh, Sameer, Nisha, etc had dinner with us.‖ They find such usage
offensive.

―Villain‖
The word ―villain‖ comes from the Latin “villanus‖ meaning ―farm servant‖. In
Medieval Europe many peasant farmers were ―owned‖ by their masters and had to work
for them for free. Being slaves, they were frequently sold from one person to another.
When the word ―villain‖ first entered the language, it did not have a negative
connotation; it did not mean an evil person, as it does today. But since the original
―villain‖ was poor, he often had to resort to a little bit of stealing to survive. The
aristocratic landlords, however, began to associate all sorts of bad things with him. As a
result, the word began to be associated with a person of low morals. As time went by,
―villain‖ began to acquire the negative meaning that it has today. Do you know that the
word ―villain‖ and ―villa‖ are related? In the old days, villains lived in a villa! When we
think of a ―villa‖ now, we think of something fancy, but the original meaning of ―villa‖
was ―farm‖. Perhaps we should start calling farmhouses ―villas‖!

―Silhouette‖

When you look at someone who has the sun behind him, what is it that you normally see?
Usually you can‘t see anything; all you see is a dark shape. Its very difficult to make out
who the person is. This dark outline that you see of an object or person against a bright
background is referred to as a silhouette.

*As the sun began to slowly rise, one could see the dark silhouette of the fort.
*Silhouetted against the bright lights was a figure of an old woman.

The first syllable rhymes with ―fill‖, ―pill‖, and ―bill‖, the following ―o‖ is like the ―oo‖
in ―pool‖, ―fool‖, and ―cool‖. The final ―ette‖ is like the ―et‖ in ―pet‖, ―bet‖, and ―set‖.
The main stress is on the final syllable. This is one way of pronouncing the word.

Etienne de Silhouette was a French author and politician who lived in the 18th Century.
During this period, in the world of art, the silhouette portrait had become a rage. While
the common man fell in love with the silhouette, art critics took great delight in
rubbishing it. When de Silhouette became the finance minister, he reduced the budget for
the nobility, tripled the taxes on bachelors, and did many other things, which made him
very unpopular with the powers that be. In order to ridicule the man, the aristocrats began
to apply his name to what they believed was meaningless art. Also, men‘s clothing
without pockets began to be called ―a la silhouette‖ — meaning ―on the cheap‖. The man
became so unpopular that he was forced to resign. This is one theory. Some other
scholars believe that Silhouette‘s hobby was to cut profile portraits of individuals out of
black paper — hence the name silhouette.

Drive a coach and horses through something

When you drive a coach and horses through something, what you are attempting to do is
find loopholes. In other words, you are finding the weak points in a case. This is an
expression used mostly in formal contexts.
The attorney drove a coach and horses through the witness‘s defence.‖ * ―The police
drove a coach and horses through the robber‘s alibi.‖ * The opposition drove a coach and
horses through the Prime Minister‘s argument.

Drive a wedge between

When you drive a wedge between two people you are creating problems between them.
You are ruining the relationship between two individuals or between two groups of
people.

―In many of our movies, it‘s always a girl who drives a wedge between two guys.‖ * Rani
and Kishore‘s divorce has driven a wedge between the two families.‖

Something drives you to distraction

When something drives you to distraction, it makes you so angry or upset that you are
unable to think clearly.

‗‘My neighbour is renovating her apartment. All the noise is driving me to distraction.‖ *
―My cousin talks a lot. Her non stop chatter drives my mother to distraction.‖ * ―My
cousin is teaching kindergarten. She told me the other day that looking after twenty kids
every day is driving her to distraction.‖

drive someone up the wall / Drive someone bonkers

When you say that someone is driving you up the wall, what you mean is that he is
driving you crazy. He is irritating or frustrating you.‖ *All those questions you ask me
drive me up the wall.‖ * ―That‘s good because they are meant to drive you up the wall. *
―Whenever I play tennis with Ramdas, I always lob a lot. It drives him up the wall.‖ * ―I
don‘t like visiting Kirthi‘s house. The mess inside drives me up the wall.‖

―It‘s also possible to say, the mess inside drives me bonkers.‖ * All that noise is driving
me bonkers. * All this talk about cricket on TV drives me bonkers.‖ * ―My neighbour‘s
new puppy is driving me bonkers.‖ ―The creature keeps howling all night long.‖

Origin of ―Hi‖

There are several theories which account for the origin of this word. According to one
theory, in the old days when people bumped into each other, the first question they asked
was ―How are you?‖ This was the standard practice. Since everyone knew what the first
question was going to be, they asked it very quickly.

When ―How are you?‖ is said quickly, it sounds like ―hiya‖. Soon ―hiya‖ began to
replace the much more formal ―How are you?‖ Some people thought that ―hiya‖ was too
long and reduced it to ―hi‖. Therefore when you greet someone, ―Hi, how are you?‖ what
you are actually doing is merely repeating yourself. You are saying, ―How are you? How
are you?‖

―epitome‖

When you refer to an individual or a thing as the ―epitome‖ of something, what you are
implying is that they are the ―typical or ideal example‖ of something. The word can be
used with both good as well as bad things.

Here are a few examples. *I consider him to be the epitome of the crooked politician.
*Rama thinks that travelling by AC two tier is the epitome of extravagance. *Natraj‘s
new driver is the epitome of laziness.

The vowels in the first two syllables are pronounced like the ―i‖ in ―bit‖, ―sit‖, and ―hit‖.
The ―o‖ is like the ―a‖ in ―china‖, and the final syllable is pronounced like the word
―me‖. The main stress is on the second syllable ―pi‖.

Is it O.K to say, ―What is your good name?‖

Of course, it is! When we meet someone, this is the first question that we generally ask.

Native speakers of English do not ask an individual what his ―good‖ or ―bad‖ name is.
They just want to know his name.

The question ―What is your good name?‖ is actually a translation of the Hindi ―Aap ka
shubh naam kya hai?‖

D-day ―

Nowadays, the word is used to mean the day chosen for the commencement of an
important activity.

*The players are preparing themselves for D-day tomorrow. *Tomorrow is D-day. We
are launching our new product. So Friday is D-day, is it?

The ―D‖ in D-day stands for ―day‖. So when you say ―D-day‖ what you are actually
saying is ―Day-day‖. The expression was first used during World War I, and not as many
people think in the Second World War. The famous D-day was of course on June 6,
1944.

―disassemble‖ and ―dissemble‖

When you ―assemble‖ something, you put it together. When you ―disassemble‖
something, you take it apart. We have all met people who enjoy taking things apart and
putting them together. Some people disassemble their watches and computers, in order to
figure out how they work.
*Vishnu disassembled the watch, but had problems putting it together again. *The
instructor disassembled the computer and showed Mahidhar how it worked. *We
disassembled the iron and looked for signs of wear and tear.

When an individual ―dissembles‖, he is concealing something. What he is hiding could


be his emotions, his desires, or his ideas. When you ―dissemble‖, you are putting on a
false appearance. The word has the main stress on the second syllable, and is mostly used
in formal contexts.

Here are a few examples. *Gayathri had trained herself to dissemble her real thoughts.
*During the lecture, the students were unable to dissemble their boredom. *Indu can
dissemble her feelings when it serves her purpose.

Home‘ preceded by ‗at‘ or ‗to‘ ?

You usually ―arrive home‖, you do not ―arrive at home‖.

Here are a few examples. *The newly appointed manager arrived home at ten o‘clock.
*As soon as Ganga reached home, she realised that something was wrong. *When Sachin
arrived home, he went straight to bed.

Just as you don‘t say, ―arrive at home‖, similarly you don‘t say, ―go to home‖. Instead
you say, ―go home‖.

*The young boy went home and took a nap. *I am going home to watch the game. *If
you are planning to go home, can you give me a ride?

―Hit below the belt‖

When you say something to someone and he complains that you are hitting him below
the belt, what he is implying is that you are being extremely cruel or unfair. You are
being very unsporting. It is also possible to say, ―aim below the built‖.

Here are a few examples. *During the campaign both candidates kept hitting each other
below the belt. *Be careful with Ajit. He doesn‘t think twice about hitting someone
below the belt.

The expression comes from the world of boxing. In this sport, it is illegal to hit the
opponent below the belt (waist). If you do throw a punch below his belt, you may either
be disqualified or points may be deducted from you.

―Inform of‖ and ―inform on‖


When you ―inform someone of‖ something what you are doing is telling him something.
You are providing the individual certain facts about something.

Here are a few examples. *Brijesh was informed of the Board‘s decision. *The students
were informed of the tragedy.

When you ―inform on‖ someone what you are doing is providing information about the
individual to the police or people in authority. This often causes problems for the person
who has been informed on because people suspect that he has done something bad. The
phrase sometimes carries a negative connotation with it.

*Laxman informed the police on Harish. *I have a sneaky feeling that someone has
informed on us.

Is it ok to address a married woman as ―Ms.‖?

One of the reasons that the fairer sex coined the word ―Ms.‖ during the Women‘s
Liberation Movement was because they didn‘t want men to know whether they were
married or not. The argument was that when a man puts ―Mr.‖ before his name, nobody
really knows whether he is married or not. A bachelor is a ―Mr‖, and so is a married man.
Whereas ladies had two different titles; an unmarried woman was referred to as a
―Miss.‖, and a married one was called ―Mrs.‖ So in the early 70s women came up with a
title which wouldn‘t provide any information about their marital status. That word was
―Ms‖. So the answer to the question is that it‘s all right to address a married woman as
―Ms.‖ The word is pronounced like the word ―Miss‖ except that the ―ss‖ is pronounced
like the ―z‖ in ―zip‖ and ―zoo‖.

―Blackmail‖

When you set up a new business, there are a number of things you have to worry about.
One worry is people trying to extort money from you. It is very common for ―antisocial
elements‖ to take money from you in order to give you ―protection‖. In the old days,
farmers living along the Scottish border had to pay ―freebooters‖ such money in order to
be left in peace. The mail in the word ―blackmail‖ has nothing to do with the post office
or letters. It comes from the Scottish word ―mail‖ meaning ―rent‖ or ―tax‖; ―blackmail‖
was the rent which individuals paid to gangs to ensure that they did not get robbed. Why
―blackmail‖? According to some scholars the rent that farmers paid was usually in the
form of ―black cattle‖. When the rent was paid in the form of silver, it was called
―whitemail‖.

―I have got a headache‖ or ―I have got headache‖?

Headache is always treated as a countable noun, and is therefore preceded by ―a‖. You
cannot say, ―I have got headache‖. In British English, all other ―aches‖ stomachache,
toothache, backache, etc. – can be treated either as countable or uncountable nouns. The
use of ―a‖ is therefore optional. ―Renu has had a toothache all night.‖ It is also possible to
say, ―Renu has had toothache all night.‖

―conscientious‖

A conscientious person is someone who takes great care to do his work properly.

Here are a few examples. *The conscientious mother sterilised the bottle before giving it
to the baby. *The young scholar studied conscientiously and enthusiastically.

Pronunciation: The first syllable is pronounced like the word ―con‖, and the following ―i‖
is like the ―i‖ in ―bit‖, ―pit‖, and ―kit‖. The ―e‖ sounds like the ―e‖ in ―pet‖, ―bet‖, and
―get‖. The ―sc‖ and the ―t‖ sound like the ―sh‖ in ―should‖, ―sheep‖ and ―shall‖. The
three vowels in the final syllable are pronounced like the ―a‖ in ―china‖; the main stress is
on the third syllable ―en‖..

―godown‖ and ―warehouse‖

In terms of meaning there is no difference. Both refer to a large building where materials
can be stored. But if you were to ask a native speaker of English to come to your godown,
he might not understand you. Native speakers do not use the word ―godown‖; they prefer
―warehouse‖. The word ―godown‖ is Indian in origin.

―whistleblower‖

He is an informer. When you realise that the company that you are working for is into all
kinds illegal activities and you decide to inform the police or the public about them, then
you become a whistleblower. It is also possible to write the word as ―whistle-blower‖.

Here are a few examples. *If you expect me to be the whistle-blower Mahesh, you can
forget it. *Some whistleblower put Chandru behind bars for a couple of years.

Why is ―pound‖ abbreviated to ―lb.‖?

The ―lb.‖ is the short form of the Latin ―libra‖ meaning ―pound‖. The original expression
was ―libra pondo‖ meaning ―pound in weight‖. As time went by however, changes in
meaning took place. ―Pondo‖ which originally meant ―in weight‖ began to mean
―pound‖. As a result, the word ―libra‖ became redundant. The original word for pound is
now only retained in its abbreviated form ―lb.‖. The abbreviated form of ―ounce‖ (oz.)
comes from the Italian ―onza‖.

upset the applecart‖

Posted by Sunil Jose on August 6, 2009


This is an expression that has been around for several hundred years. When you upset
someone‘s applecart what you are doing is ruining his plans, and in the process causing
problems for the individual.

Here are a few examples. *Rekha is a friend of the groom‘s and she doesn‘t want to upset
the applecart. *Veeru upset the applecart when he announced that he was resigning.

The ―applecart‖ is the pushcart that vendors use to peddle their fruit. If a cart loaded with
fruit were overturned (―upset‖), what would be the result? The fruit would get damaged,
and the poor vendor would end up incurring a huge loss leading to his ruin.

Pronunciation: Oven and Onion

Many Indians tend to pronounce the ―o‖ like the ―o‖ in ―go‖ and ―so‖; native speakers,
however pronounce it like the ―u‖ in ―but‖, ―cut‖ and ―hut‖. The following ―e‖ is like the
―a‖ in ―china‖, and the stress is on the first syllable. Similarly, native speakers of English
pronounce the ―o‖ in the first syllable of ―onion‖ is like the ―a‖ in ―cut‖ and ―but‖.

Is it ok to use ―prepone‖?

Within India there is nothing wrong in using this word; we all understand what it means.
The fact that native speakers don‘t use it is not our problem. After all, when you have
`postpone‘, then why not prepone? Dictionaries which contain a section on Indian
English always include ―prepone‖. Native speakers of English, as I have mentioned
several times before, use the word ―advance‖ instead of ―prepone‖.

*I want to prepone/advance my date of journey. *Ganesh preponed/advanced his trip to


Australia.

―minutes (of meeting)‖

In English, m..i..n..u..t..e has two different meanings. One refers to time (seconds,
minutes, hours, etc) and the other to size (small). In the second case, the word sounds like
―my newt‖. Both words are derived from the Latin ―minutus‖. I understand the original
―minutes‖ of a meeting referred to size rather than time. In the old days, when the
minutes were recorded, they were done so in very small handwriting; later a carefully
edited and complete version of the content was written in larger handwriting – this
process was called ―engrossing‖. The term is used to describe the large writing
sometimes used in legal documents.

―cavalcade‖
If you have the misfortune of living in the state captital, you will probably know what a
cavalcade is. A ―cavalcade‖ is the procession of people on horses, in cars, carriages, etc.
Both cavalcade and cavalry come from the Latin ―caballus‖ meaning ―horse‖.

Here are a few examples. *While I was waiting at the bus stop, I saw a cavalcade of
limousines zoom past. *The parade included a cavalcade of army men on
motorcycles.*The Prime Minister‘s cavalcade was caught in the traffic jam.

Pronunciation

The ―a‖ in the first syllable sounds like the ―a‖ in ―cat‖, ―bat‖, and ―rat‖; while the ―a‖
that follows is like the ―a‖ in ―china‖. The final syllable ―cade‖ rhymes with ―made‖,
―fade‖, and ―paid‖. The main stress is on the first syllable.

underemployed‖ and ―unemployed‖

Someone who is ―unemployed‖ doesn‘t have a job; he is someone who is in search of


one. There are millions of unemployed people in our country. If an individual is
―underemployed‖ it implies that he has a job, but he doesn‘t really have much work to do.
The job isn‘t very demanding, and it doesn‘t really make use of the skills or abilities of
the individual.

*Vignesh prefers to be unemployed rather than underemployed.

*Anuradha was underemployed and was very unhappy with her job.

―armchair critic‖

Armchair critics are individuals who have great deal of theoretical knowledge about a
subject, gained mostly from books; they have little or no practical experience. An
―armchair critic‖ is someone who sits in one place (preferably an armchair) and gathers
as much information as he can from books. Many of us are nothing more than armchair
critics.

*I want to talk to someone who has dealt with this problem, not to some armchair critic.

*The last thing I need right now are the opinions of some armchair critic.

*The armchair critics at the club spent an hour discussing what went wrong in the match.

It is also possible to be an ―armchair traveller‖. He is someone who learns a lot about a


place by reading or hearing about it. And I guess with the advent of television, he could
also be someone who gets to know about a place by watching programmes about it.

―I had a bad day‖ or ―I have had a bad day‖?


When you say that you ―had a bad day‖, what you are implying is that the events that
made it a ―bad day‖ are already over. They happened in the past, and are not continuing
up to the present. Perhaps you had a bad day at the office yesterday. Maybe you had a
bad day at the office today. But right now, you are no longer at the office, so chances are
the ―bad day‖ will no longer continue. It is over.

When you say that you ―have had a bad day‖, what you are implying is that the bad day is
not over as yet. It may still continue. You are saying that you have had a bad day ―so far‖
and chances are the rest of the day will be bad as well. The bad day isn‘t over as yet! The
events that have made it a bad day began in the past and are continuing up to the present
moment and with the kind of luck you have been having, they may even continue into the
future!

Here are a couple of more examples.

―I had the car for twenty years‖ and ―I have had the car for twenty years‖. The first
sentence implies that you had the car with you for twenty years. But now you no longer
own the car, perhaps you have sold it. The second sentence, ―I have had the car for
twenty years‖ suggests that you bought the car twenty years ago and you still have it.
You still continue to be the owner of the car. The ―action‖ (as our grammar books would
put it!) of owning the car began twenty years ago and it still continues.

*Janani had a headache (yesterday/this morning). (She no longer has one now)

*I have had a girlfriend for two years. (I still have a girlfriend)

Is it O.K to ask someone, ―Would you like a cool drink?‖

Native speakers of English do not refer to a cola as a ―cool drink‖. Instead they use ―soft
drink‖, ―soda‖ and ―soda pop‖. They would normally ask, ―Would you like a soft drink?‖
or ―Would you like a soda?‖ So is it wrong to ask someone if he wants a ―cool drink‖?
Not in the Indian context. In India everyone would understand what you mean.

―hangdog expression‖

The term ―hangdog‖ is normally used to refer to one‘s expression; an expression that
suggests that one is ashamed of what one has done.

Here are a few examples. *When Kanthi was arrested, she had a hangdog expression
about her. *The hangdog air suggested that she had done something seriously wrong.

During medieval times, it was common practice among Europeans to put not only human
beings on trial, but also animals. Whenever an animal did something wrong, it was put on
trial and if found guilty it was sentenced to die by ―hanging‖. For example, if a dog bit a
man and he died of rabies, the dog was put on trial for murder. In 1487 in France, beetles
were formally charged for destroying a vineyard! The expression ―hangdog‖ was initially
used to describe the look on someone‘s face who was considered fit to be hanged, like a
dog, for his crimes. Nowadays, the word is being used to mean ―shamefaced‖.

How is the word ―Lieutenant‖ pronounced?

The Americans and the British pronounce this word differently. The English pronounce
the ―lieut‖ like the word ―left‖. The ―e‖ that follows is pronounced like the ―e‖ in ―ten‖,
―pen‖ and ―hen‖, and the final ―a‖ sounds like the ―a‖ in ―china‖. The main stress is on
the second syllable. The Americans, on the other hand, pronounce the ―ieu‖ in the first
syllable like the ―oo‖ in ―pool‖, ―cool‖, and ―school‖. They pronounce the remaining two
syllables like the British. The main stress once again remains on the second syllable.
Indians tend to follow the British pronunciation.

―Slouch‖ / ―no slouch‖

`slouch‘ means to walk about with one‘s shoulders and head bent. The word refers to
one‘s posture.‖
Examples, ―The young programmer was slouched over the computer.‖* ―Last night
Sujatha slouched past me with her hands in her kurta.‖ * ―Sujata slouches even when she
is sitting down.‖
―When you say that someone is `no slouch‘ at something, what you mean is that the
individual is very good at it. It‘s an expression mostly used in informal contexts. ‖
―My neighbour is no slouch at painting.‖ * ―My tennis partner is a pretty huge guy. But
he is no slouch at the net.‖

―Guzzle‖

―When you guzzle something what you are doing is eating or drinking it very quickly.
You greedily gulp it down.
Examples: ―Mehta guzzled gin and tonic all evening.‖ * ―The kids guzzled down all the
gulab jamuns in about five minutes.‖ *‖Sujatha guzzled coffee all night long in order to
complete the project.‖

Raise (someone‘s) hackles

―Hairs on the neck of a dog are called hackles. Similarly, the feathers on the neck of a
domestic cock are called hackles.‖ ―I believe when a dog becomes angry or agitated, the
hair on its neck stands up and when a cock gets agitated, the feathers on the back of its
neck stand up.‖ ―So when you say that someone‘s hackles are raised, what you mean is
that the person is very angry.‖
Examples: ―The photographs of the Iraqis being tortured raised my hackles.‖ * ―I could
see my chemistry teacher‘s hackles raising as she heard the principal outline his plan.‖
―The kids expected the article to raise a few hackles. But nothing happened.‖
`farm out‘

―When you `farm out‘ work to someone, what you are doing is getting the person to do
it.‖ ―So if I have too much work, I can farm some of it out to a colleague or to an
outsider.‖
Examples: ―The new company that my dad works for farms out a lot of work to
consultants.‖ * ―When I become the boss, I am going to farm out all my work.‖
It is also possible to farm out people. When you do this, you are sending someone to
work for somebody else.

What‘s the meaning of ―He‘s become a vegetable‖?

This is an offensive term used to describe people who have been declared brain dead by
doctors. Sometimes after a serious accident, the only thing that a victim can do on his
own is breathe. The person cannot think, speak or move. A person who slips into a coma
is said to be a vegetable. Other than the breathing, there are no indications that the
individual is alive.
Here is an example. *The young boy has been a vegetable for the past six months. An
individual who leads a very boring, monotonous existence can also be said to lead the life
of a vegetable.

―gourmet‖ and ―gourmand‖

The ―gour‖ in the first syllable of ―gourmet‖ sounds like the ―ure‖ in ―sure‖, ―cure‖, and
―pure‖. The following ―met‖ is pronounced like the word ―may‖.
The first syllable of ―gourmand‖ is pronounced like the first syllable of ―gourmet‖. The
―a‖ in the second syllable is like the ―a‖ in ―china‖. This is one way of pronouncing the
word. The stress in the case of both words is on the first syllable. The two words are
related to food. A ―gourmet‖ is a connoisseur of good food and vintage wines. He is an
authority on the selection and preparation of good food. If you take a gourmet to a
restaurant, he will not only order the food for you, but will also tell the chef how he wants
the dishes to be prepared. Since he is very fond of his food, he is very particular about the
quality. ―Gourmet food‖ is supposed to be much more sophisticated than ordinary food,
but is also a lot more expensive.
A ―gourmand‖ is an individual who enjoys eating and drinking a lot. Unlike a gourmet, a
gourmand is more interested in the quantity of food rather than quality. He is a glutton.
The word is often used disapprovingly to describe someone.
Here are a few examples. *The food in the new restaurant will satisfy the gourmands, but
not the gourmets. *On their honeymoon the young couple had a gourmet dinner. *When
he took Vasantha to dinner, he realised what a gourmand she was.
The Hindu- ‗Know Your English‘ Series, May 10, 2004

Posted in Difference, Pron―Ditzy‖

First let‘s deal with the pronunciation. The ―i‖ and the ―y‖ are pronounced like the ―i‖ in
―bit‖, ―pit‖, and ―sit‖. The ―z‖ sounds like the ―s‖ in ―sit‖ and ―sip‖; the main stress is on
the first syllable. ―Ditzy‖, or ―ditsy‖ as it is sometimes spelt, is a word that is usually used
in American English in informal contexts. The word is normally used with women. When
you refer to a woman as a ―ditz‖ or ―ditzo‖ what you mean is that she is very
scatterbrained. She is quite silly and is not very well organised.
Here are a few examples. *Hey Rahul, it‘s that ditzo Jaya on the phone. Do you want to
talk to her? *My ditsy cousin forgot to post the invitations.
The Hindu- ‗Know Your English‘ Series, May 10, 2004

Posted in General, Pronunciation | Leave a Comment »

Which is correct? ―Relieved of‖ or ―relieved off‖?

The word ―relieved‖ is followed by ―of‖ and not ―off‖.


Here are a few examples. *The young soldier was relieved of his duties. *The medicine
relieved him of the pain. *We will relieve you of your problems.
The Hindu- ‗Know Your English‘ Series, May 10, 2004

Posted in Usage | Leave a Comment »

IS IT OK to say, ―I will meet you at about 7: 45″?

Yes, it is. Native speakers of English say it all the time. When you inform someone that
you will be meeting him at about 7: 45, what you mean is that you will be meeting him
approximately at that time. You may be a few minutes early, or a few minutes late for the
appointment. It is also possible to say, ―I‘ll meet you around 7: 45″. It has the same
meaning as ―I‘ll meet you at about 7: 45″. Native speakers of English also add ―ish‖ to
the time to mean approximately. For example, if someone says he will meet you ―sixish‖
what he means is that he will be there at approximately six o‘clock. This is usually used
in speech.
Here are a few examples. *The kids walked into the building at about/around 6: 30. *It
was sevenish when the meeting started.

―burn the midnight oil‖

When you burn the midnight oil what you are doing is working very hard; working late
into the night.
Here are a few examples. *With exams around the corner, Revathi has been burning the
midnight oil. *The assignment is due tomorrow. I guess I will have to burn the midnight
oil tonight. *With two of his workers on leave, poor John has been forced to burn the
midnight oil.
This idiom has been part of the English language for several centuries. The expression
came into the language when there was no electricity. People depended on oil lamps and
candles for light. Whenever you wanted to work late into the night, you had to keep the
lamps burning.

How is the word ―heir‖ pronounced?

It‘s pronounced like the word ―air‖. The ―h‖ is silent. Many people in our country
pronounce it like the word ―hair‖. It is wrong to do so

―Paddle your own canoe‖

First, let‘s deal with the pronunciation of the word ―canoe‖. The ―a‖ in the first syllable is
like the ―a‖ in ―about‖ and ―arrest‖; while the following ―oe‖ is like the ―oo‖ in ―cool‖,
―pool‖, and ―fool‖. The main stress is on the second syllable. A canoe, as you probably
know, is a small wooden boat. The expression ―paddle your own canoe‖ is mostly used in
American English in informal contexts. If you have the ability to row (paddle) your own
boat (canoe), what it implies is that you are capable of taking care of yourself. You are
independent and don‘t require the help of others.
Here are a few examples. *Kalyan has been paddling his own canoe ever since he
dropped out of college. *Havovi is hoping to paddle her own canoe after graduating from
college. *Mani quit his job last month. He wants to paddle his own canoe

―Chauffeur‖ and a ―driver‖

The first syllable ―chau‖ of ―chauffeur‖ sounds like the word ―show‖. The following
―eur‖ is like the ―a‖ in ―china‖. The main stress is on the first syllable. This is one way of
pronouncing the word. ―Chauffeur‖ is not used very often in our country; we prefer the
word ―driver‖. A chauffeur, in most western countries, is a man or a woman hired by
someone to drive him around. The ―drivers‖ of very wealthy people are called
―chauffeurs‖ and so are individuals who transport people between hotels and airports. A
chauffeur knows your destination even before he picks you up — your trips are
prearranged. This is not the case with a taxi driver — you inform him of your destination
after you get in his car. Unlike a taxi driver, a chauffeur drives a great car (often a
limousine) and is usually in uniform. This individual is paid for his services.
A driver, on the other hand, needn‘t always be paid for his services. Anyone can be a
driver. When we drive our cars, scooters or motorcycles, we are drivers, not chauffeurs.
Similarly, when we decide to drop a friend off at the station, or at the library, we are
drivers not chauffeurs. A driver is someone who is at the wheel.

Why are the hottest days during summer referred to as ―dog days‖?

This is an expression which has been around since the 16th Century. The hottest days
during the summer (usually between 3 July and 11 August in Europe) are referred to as
―dog days‖ because this is also the time when Sirius rises as the same time as the sun.
Another name for Sirius is ―Dog Star‖. People believed that it was because of the
influence of this star that the weather turned hot. Hence the expression ―dog days‖.
Another explanation given by scholars as to why this season is called ―dog days‖ is
because many dogs went mad during this hot period.

―Nothing upstairs‖

―When you say that an individual has nothing upstairs, what you mean is that he/she is
not very intelligent. He/she doesn‘t have any brains.‖ In other words, the person is very
stupid.
Example: ―You can‘t expect too much from Jai. He has nothing upstairs.‖* ―According
to many of my friends Bush has nothing upstairs; he has been telling the world that he
just didn‘t have the intelligence to stop 9/11 from happening.‖

―number cruncher‖

A number cruncher is a slang term for an accountant, or anyone who likes to work with
numbers.
Examples: ―We interviewed several number crunchers last week‖. * ―I don‘t think I
would enjoy being a number cruncher.‖* ―The number crunchers in our office are trying
to get the annual report ready for next week‘s meeting.‖

―Windshield tourist‖

Posted by Sunil Jose on March 1, 2009

Windshield tourist means that I never stop to take in the sights. I merely stay in the car
and see everything through the windshield.‖
―In other words, when you go to a new place you merely sit in your car.‖
Example: ― There is so much of windshield tourism these days that many of the shops in
town are going out of business.‖ * ―My father is like you. He never wants to visit places.
Even when we went to Agra, he was just a windshield tourist.‖

Latrinogram
―A latrinogram or latrino is a rumour that is usually spread in the bathroom. You know
when people working in an office bump into each other in the bathroom… ..‖
―… .when they meet in the bathroom they usually exchange gossip.‖ So a rumour that is
spread in the latrine is referred to as `latrinogram‘.
Examples: ― There‘s a latrino that says that this year‘s final exams may be cancelled.‖ *
―There was a latrinogram yesterday saying that I might not be transferred for another six
months.‖ * ―According to this morning‘s latrinogram, my boss‘ wife has filed for
divorce.‖

`bite your tongue‘

―When someone says something, and you respond by saying `bite your tongue‘, what
you mean is `take back what you said‘.‖
―Whenever someone says something that you don‘t want said, you can say, `bite your
tongue‘. Here‘s another example. You are accusing my brother of stealing your old car!
Bite your tongue.‖

―cyberslacker‖

The introduction of the computer in the work environment has brought in many words
into the English language. ―Cyberslacker‖ is one such word. If your boss refers to you as
a ―slacker‖ what he means is that you are lazy! You do less work than what is expected of
you. You find various ways of goofing off in the office. A ―cyberslacker‖ is someone
who makes use of his employer‘s Internet and e-mail facilities for personal use. Instead
of doing the work at hand, he goofs off by surfing the net and e-mailing his friends.
*We have many cyberslackers in the institute. *When the company decided to downsize,
they got rid of several cyberslackers.

―cut and run‖

This is an expression used mostly in informal contexts. When someone in a difficult


situation decides to cut and run, what he does is to quickly run away from his problems.
Instead of dealing with them in a responsible way, he attempts to escape from them by
leaving suddenly. This is something that all of us do some time or the other.
Here are a few examples. *When the pressure began to mount, many in the management
decided to cut and run. *Raju‘s cowardly decision to cut and run was criticised by
everyone.
The expression comes from the world of sailing. In the old days, when a ship that was at
anchor came under attack, what the sailors did in order to make a quick getaway was to
cut the rope to which the anchor was tied. Instead of going through the lengthy process of
raising the anchor and then setting sail, they merely ―cut‖ the rope and allowed the ship
to ―run‖ before the wind. The crew lost the anchor by doing this, but this gave them a
chance to escape. Nowadays of course, it is no longer possible to ―cut and run‖ because
anchors are attached to chains and not ropes!

―funny bone‖

The funny bone extends from the shoulder joint to the elbow, and as we all know from
experience, getting hit on this bone is anything but funny. When we accidentally bump
our elbow against a hard surface, we get an uncomfortable tingling sensation. We feel a
sting shooting from the forearm to the little finger. Then why is the bone called ―funny
bone‖? Simple. The medical term for this bone is ―humerus‖; it is pronounced the same
way as ―humorous‖! Hence the name ―funny bone‖. Are you amused?

Which is correct? ―It is I‖ or ―It is me‖?

Both are correct, but if you say, ―It is I‖ people will know that you have learnt your
English from books — old grammar books! When somebody asks, ―Who is it‖ and you
reply, ―It‘s I‖, he/she may laugh. The individual will think that you are trying to be
pompous. Nobody really says, ―It‘s I‖ these days; it‘s considered old fashioned.
Nowadays, the standard response is, ―It‘s me!‖, or just ―Me!‖.

―exalt‖ and ―exult‖

When you exalt someone or something you praise the individual or the object a lot. It is
considered to be a formal word.
*His sycophants exalted the achievements of the minister. * Harsha‘s new novel exalts
the virtues of honesty and hard work.
When you exult, you express great pleasure or happiness; you rejoice.
*Millions of fans exulted in winning the first test. *The captain exulted, ―We have been
waiting for this for fifty years‖.
In the case of both words, the main stress is on the second syllable.

‖ beef with someone‖ / ―beef about something‖

―beef with someone‖ is a slang expression which means to have a problem or a conflict
with someone.
Here are a few examples. *I can assure you that I really don‘t have a beef with Vasu.
*Like most young brides, Savithri has beef against her mother-in-law.
When someone beefs about something, they constantly keep complaining about it.
*Mala keeps beefing about the quality of food in the canteen. *Naveen, I don‘t want to
hear any more beef from you.

―goody two-shoes‖

Someone who tries to behave better than others is usually referred to as ―goody two
shoes‖. The individual, a hypocrite, tries to put on a great show of goodness. The
expression is usually used with woman and has a negative connotation.
*Devi is no goody two-shoes. She just wants to stay out of trouble.
The name comes from the title character in the 1776 book “The History of Little Goody
Two Shoes―. Goody is actually the short form of ―Goodwife‖, a 16th Century equivalent
of ―Mrs.‖.

How is the word ―spinach‖ pronounced?

The first syllable sounds like the word ―spin‖, while the ―ach‖ that follows is pronounced
like the ―idge‖ in ―fridge‖, ―bridge‖ and ―porridge‖. The main stress is on the first
syllable. Spinach, as you know, is the leafy vegetable that the cartoon character Popeye
eats whenever he wants to become strong. The character was created in order to make
spinach popular among children in America.

―pushing the envelope‖

This is an expression which first began to be used in the 1940s by the U.S. Air Force test
pilots.

When a pilot ―pushes the envelope‖ he takes the plane beyond the recommended safety
limits prescribed. He pushes the plane to the limits in order to determine what exactly the
plane can do. The expression became popular thanks to a book by Tom Wolfe titled The
Right Stuff.

Nowadays, the expression is used in everyday contexts to mean, ―going beyond the
limits‖ and ―to stretch the boundaries‖.

*The new company is beginning to push the envelope in the world of technology

―running from pillar to post‖

What is it that usually happens when you want to get some work done in a government
office? You ask a clerk something and he grumpily tells you that you have to go to some
other department; when you go there, you are told you are in the wrong place. You are
constantly given the runaround. When you run from pillar to post, you are constantly on
the move; you are made to go from one place to another, but you don‘t achieve anything
at all. There is a lot of aimless running around. The idiom carries with it the sense of
being harassed. The expression has been around for several centuries, and when it entered
the language it was ―from post to pillar‖.

*The students were made to run from pillar to post for their mark sheet.

According to some scholars, the expression comes from the world of court tennis — a
game that I understand is very different from the game of lawn tennis that is played
today. Another theory is that the expression refers to a form of punishment that was
meted out to criminals. In the old days, criminals were first tied to a ―post‖ in the
marketplace and whipped. After that they were dragged to a pillory (―pillar‖). This was
essentially a wooden frame that had three holes in it. The prisoner was made to put his
head and his two hands through the holes, and made to stand or kneel for days together.
The public had fun throwing rotten vegetables and eggs at the hapless victim.

―militant‖ and ―terrorist‖

Dictionaries define a terrorist as someone who uses terror to achieve his end. The
individual resorts to violence in order to get what he wants; he uses violence in order to
make a political statement.

The word is normally used with individuals and organisations and never to a country as a
whole. This explains why people talk about countries that ―sponsor‖ terrorism.

*The terrorists threatened to kill the hostages.

A ―militant‖, like a terrorist, believes in something very strongly; but unlike a terrorist
does not always make use of violence to achieve his ends. He will, however, not hesitate
to use it if the situation demands it. He exerts a lot of pressure on others to get what he
wants. Here is an example.

*The militants took shelter in an abandoned church

What does ―sine die‖ mean?

First, let‘s deal with the pronunciation. The ―i‖ in ―sine‖ is like the ―y‖ in ―my‖, ―by‖,
and ―sky‖, while the following ―e‖ is like the ―i‖ in ―pit‖, ―kit‖, and ―bit‖. The ―i‖ in
―die‖ is pronounced like the ―i‖ in ―sine‖. The following ―e‖ is like the ―ee‖ in ―bee‖,
―see‖, and ―fee‖.

The main stress is on the first syllable of ―die‖. This is one of the ways of pronouncing
the word. ―Sine die‖ is normally used in legal contexts and it means indefinitely, ―without
a date being fixed‖.

*The meeting was adjourned sine die.


website of the day: inogolo

inogolo contains a searchable database of names with both phonetic and audio
pronunciations in English.

Is it ok to say ―but then‖?

Yes, it is. We use it all the time in speech and in informal styles of writing. It has the
same meaning as ―but‖. For example, when we say, ―Tendulkar is a gifted batsman, but
then, so is Dravid‖, what we mean is that both Dravid and Tendulkar are gifted batsmen.
Tendulkar is a gifted batsman, but so is Dravid.

Here is another example. ―I would like to help you, but then my wife wouldn‘t like it.‖
What you mean here is that you would like to help the individual, but you are not in a
position to because your wife wouldn‘t like it. Maybe, she will get angry — and no
husband wants to make his ―better half‖ angry!

―in apple pie order‖

This is an idiom that has been around for several centuries, and contrary to what many
people believe, it is not of American origin. When you say that something is ―in apple pie
order‖, what you mean is that it is in perfect order. Everything has been neatly organised;
things are in their proper place.

*Bala puts his desk in apple pie order every evening.

According to many scholars the idiom is a corruption of the French ―nappe plie‖ meaning
―folded linen‖. But the popular story doing the rounds is that the expression became
popular thanks to a Colonial (that‘s what Americans were called before they got their
independence) wife who lived in New England.

The story goes that this lady was in the habit of baking seven apple pies every Sunday —
one pie for every day of the coming week. Once the pies had been baked and cooled, she
would then proceed to place them on different shelves. The pie that was to be eaten on
Monday was placed on the first shelf, the one to be eaten on Tuesday on the shelf next to
it, and so on and so forth. The story goes that this lady was so meticulous that she made
sure that all the pies were lined up just right. Hence the expression, ―apple pie order‖.
Interesting story, isn‘t it? But then, that‘s all it is, a story.

―bonhomie ‖

The ―o‖ in the first syllable is like the ―o‖ in ―hot‖, ―pot‖, and ―got‖, while the one in the
second syllable sounds like the ―a‖ in ―china‖. The final two vowels are like the ―i‖ in
―sit‖, ―pit‖, and ―hit‖. The main stress is on the first syllable. This is one way of
pronouncing the word.
Good-natured friendliness is usually referred to as ―bonhomie‖. The word is usually used
in formal contexts.

*After winning the championship, the captain was full of bonhomie.

―icing on the cake‖

When you get cake to eat, it is a pretty good deal. If the cake has frosting or icing on it,
then the deal is that much sweeter. When you say that something is icing or frosting on
the cake, what you are implying is that the addition or inclusion of something makes a
really good situation even better. A great deal, becomes a wonderful deal. When used
approvingly, ―icing on the cake‖ is used to refer to an unexpected extra good thing to
have happened when you have already had some luck.

I was thrilled to get a big bonus. When my boss told me that I had also been promoted, it
was really icing on the cake.

*Geetha was pretty excited when her book was published — winning the Pulitzer prize
was icing on the cake.

The expression can also be used to show disapproval. There is no point in adding
anything to something that is already good. The thing that you have added is unnecessary
— icing on the cake.

*Having a glossy cover for our new magazine is both unnecessary and expensive — icing
on the cake.

Is the word ―unwell‖ used only with pregnant ladies?

When a lady becomes pregnant, I don‘t think people refer to her as being ―unwell‖ —
those days are gone. As for your question, the word ―unwell‖ can be used with anyone —
not just pregnant ladies.

*Jai began to feel unwell after his stroll in the park.

website: Pain in the English

PainInTheEnglish.com ―encourages discussions of such gray areas of the English


language, for which you would not find answers easily in dictionaries and other reference
books‖ ( quoted from website itself.

―deal with‖ and ―deal in‖

When you ―deal in‖ something you are in the business of buying and selling things.

*The new shop around the corner deals in stolen goods.


When you ―deal someone in‖, you are permitting the individual to take part in something.

*No way! I don‘t think we should deal Laya in.

When a book or an article ―deals with‖ something, it is about a particular subject.

*The book deals with the spread of AIDS.

The expression can also be used to mean, ―to manage someone or something‖.

*There must be a way to deal with this problem. *Bala finds it difficult to deal with
Ganesh

―homemaker‖ and a ―housewife‖

Posted by Sunil Jose on November 22, 2009

In terms of meaning there is no difference between these words. The word ―homemaker‖
is the politically correct way of referring to a ―housewife‖. ―Homemaker‖ sounds much
better than ―housewife‖, doesn‘t it? Here are a few more words which are considered
politically correct: office assistant (secretary), significant other
(husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend), and horizontally challenged (someone who is fat).

Blackball‖

If someone wishes to join your club and you blackball him, what you are doing is voting
against him. You are informing the members of your club that you do not wish this
particular individual to become a member of your club.

The expression goes back to a practice that was followed in ancient Greece. Admission to
a club/society was determined by all members of the club/society. All members had to
vote; they had to indicate whether the new individual should be let in or not. The voting
was done in secret. Each member had to drop a pebble in the shape of a ball into a box.
The pebbles were usually of three colours — red, white and black. If all the pebbles that
were put in the box were either white or red, then the candidate was admitted. But if there
was even one black pebble, then the candidate was not let in.

meanderthal‖

The word meanderthal is a combination of ―meander‖ and ―Neanderthal‖. A Neanderthal


is someone who lived in Europe thousands of years ago. When you call someone a
―Neanderthal‖, what you are implying is that he behaves in an uncivilised manner. As
you probably know, the word ―meander‖ has different meanings. When a person
meanders, he never gets to the point; he talks aimlessly.
The word can also be used to refer to someone who walks slowly and aimlessly.
Therefore when you refer to someone as being a ―meanderthal‖ it could mean one of two
things. It could mean someone who walks around slowly and aimlessly. Very often when
we are in a hurry, we get stuck behind a meanderthal! A person who talks aimlessly and
never gets to the point can also be called a meanderthal. Do not use this word with people
you do not know.

cope up with‖ or ―cope with‖?

In India a lot of people say, ―cope up with‖. It is wrong to do so. Avoid the use of ―up‖
after cope.

*Kasturi was unable to cope with the pressure. *How Om manages to cope with all the
problems is beyond me.

Dinner‖ and ―supper‖

In India, we normally use the word ―dinner‖ to refer to a meal that we have in the
evening.

In Britain, it is the main meal that is referred to as ―dinner‖. Whether you have the main
meal in the afternoon or in the evening, it does not matter — it is dinner.

A ―supper‖, on the other hand, is always a light meal taken in the evening. Americans
tend to use this word rather than dinner. The word dinner is considered to be more formal
than supper; when you invite guests over, you usually ask them to have dinner with you

―blitzkrieg‖

The ―i‖ in the first syllable is pronounced like the ―i‖ in ―bit‖, ―pit‖, and ―hit‖. The two
vowels in the second syllable sound like the ―ee‖ in ―fee‖, ―see‖, and ―knee‖. The ―z‖ is
like the ―s‖ in ―sit‖, ―sip‖, and ―sin‖. The main stress is on the first syllable. In German,
―blitz‖ means lightning or flash, and ―kreig‖ means war.

―Blitzkrieg‖ refers to an intensive military operation which catches the enemy by


surprise. The aim of such a ferocious attack is to subdue the enemy very quickly.
―Blitzkrieg‖ is a word the world became familiar with during the Second World War.

Initially, the word was only used in military contexts. But nowadays, the word is
beginning to be used in general contexts as well. The constant ferocious attacks that we
sometimes see in newspapers against an individual or a political party can also be called a
―blitzkrieg‖. So can an advertising campaign for the launching of a new product. It is
from ―blitzkrieg‖ that we get the word ―blitz‖.

―Day scholar‖
In India, an individual who goes to school/college during the daytime, and returns home
in the evening is called a ―day scholar‖. He is a person who doesn‘t stay in the hostel.

Native speakers of English do not use the term ―day scholar‖. Instead of using the term
―day scholar‖, native speakers would probably say something like, ―He lives off
campus‖.

―Rubberneck‖

When you are reading a newspaper on a train, sometimes you find the person sitting next
to you leaning over your shoulder to see what it is that you are reading. The individual
stretches his neck in order to do this. Such a person was called a ―rubberneck‖.

Nowadays, the word is used to refer to someone who stares at someone or something.

A tourist, since he is always staring at something, is often called a ―rubberneck‖. The


word is mostly used in American English and is considered slang.

*The rubberneck in front of me moved at a very slow pace.

The word can also be used as a verb. When you ―rubberneck‖ at something, you are
staring at it. *Stop rubbernecking at the screen. Switch off the TV and finish your
homework

How is the word ―shot-put‖ pronounced?

During the Olympics, you must have noticed that whenever native speakers of English
were commentating on the event, they pronounced the second syllable like the word
―put‖. When the Indian commentators took over, they tended to pronounce the ―u‖ like
the ―u‖ in ―hut‖, ―cut‖, and ―but‖. Strangely enough not all dictionaries include the
pronunciation of this word. Those that do, indicate that the second syllable is pronounced
like the word ―put‖. The main stress is on the first syllable. One of the meanings of the
word ―put‖ is to throw something. So in this context what it means is that you are
throwing the ―shot‖, which is the iron ball.

―approve‖ and ―approve of‖

Posted by Sunil Jose on November 9, 2009

When an individual in power approves a decision, he allows the decision to be acted on.

*The committee decided not to approve the project for various reasons. *The members of
the Board approved the decision to hike the fees.

When a person in authority approves something like a building, what he is saying is that
he is satisfied with it and is giving his permission for it to be used. People can move into
the building. Similarly, when the Health Ministry approves a drug, what it is saying is
that it is satisfied with the product and is allowing it to be sold in the market.

*The United Nations did not approve the Iraq invasion.

When you ―approve of‖ an individual or a film, what you are saying is that you like the
person/film very much.

*The minister approved of the new candidate.

Similarly, when you ―approve of‖ something that is going to happen, you are happy or
pleased that it is going to take place.

*We approve of the event taking place on the 13th.

Which is correct? ―To keep the wolf from/off the door‖?

If you manage ―to keep the wolf from the door‖, you are earning enough money to
survive — you have enough to eat.

*What Indu makes is barely enough to keep the wolf from the door. *Oh, don‘t worry.
This cheque will keep the wolf from the door.

―fanatic‖ and ―bigot‖

A bigot is someone who has very strong opinions and prejudices — usually political or
religious. He will not change his mind even if you prove him wrong; he is blindly
devoted to his beliefs. He is very obstinate and has contempt for those who do not share
his beliefs. ―Bigot‖ is a much stronger word than ―fanatic‖ and is always used to show
disapproval.

*The religious bigots among the guests ruined the party.

The first syllable is like the word ―big‖ and the ―o‖ that follows is like the ―a‖ in ―china‖.
The main stress is on the first syllable.

The first ―a‖ in ―fanatic‖ is like the ―a‖ in ―china‖, while the following one is like the ―a‖
in ―cat‖, ―bat‖, and ―act‖. The main stress is on the second syllable and not the first.

When you describe someone as being a political or religious fanatic you are showing
your disapproval of him; you think his opinions and behaviour are rather extreme.

*Some of his closest friends include some well-known religious fanatics.

Unlike the word ―bigot‖ which is limited in its use, the word fanatic can be used with
other activities as well. If you say that someone is a fanatic about jogging, what you are
implying is that in your opinion, the individual is obsessively enthusiastic about jogging.
When used in this manner, the word carries with it a hint of irrationality or madness. It is
from the word ―fanatic‖ that we get the word ―fan‖ — meaning enthusiast.

Pronunciation: ―bete noire‖

When you dislike someone intensely, you can refer to him/her as your bete noire. These
are mostly people that annoy you greatly. The word can be used with objects as well.

*Rajeev‘s bete noire is attending weddings.

The first word is pronounced like ―bet‖; the ―n‖ is like the ―n‖ in ―net‖, ―nip‖ and ―nest‖.
The sound that follows the ―n‖ is like the ―w‖ in ―water‖, ―was‖ and ―wet‖. The vowels
are pronounced like the ―a‖ in ―ask‖, ―task‖ and ―mask‖. The ―r‖ is silent, and the main
stress is on ―noire‖. This is one way of pronouncing the word.

Is it OK to say, ―The subscriber you are calling is switched off‖?

People will understand what it means. When an individual ―switches off‖ he stops paying
attention; he stops listening.

*The lecture was so boring that many people switched off after five minutes. *Whenever
I am with my aunt, I tend to switch off.

Your example suggests that the ―subscriber‖ is not picking up the phone because he is not
paying attention. But that is not the case here, is it? He is not picking up the phone
because he has switched off the phone; as a result, he cannot hear the phone ring. It is not
the subscriber that is switched off, but the phone. A better way of saying the same thing
would be, ―The subscriber that you are calling has switched off the phone‖, or ―The
number that you are calling has been switched off.‖

―Shilly-shally‖

When a person is unable to make up his mind about something, then he is said to be
shilly-shallying. It is a word that is mostly used in informal contexts, and when used,
indicates disapproval.

*I think it is about time that you stopped shilly-shallying. *Rekha shilly-shallied for two
months. It drove Amitabh up the wall.

Any idea where this word comes from? What is the question that we normally ask
ourselves when we are undecided about something? It is, ―Shall I? Shall I?‖ It is from
this that the word ―shilly shally‖ comes from. With the passage of time ―shall I, shall I‖
changed to ―shill I, shall I?‖ Later, the ―I‖ became part of ―shill‖ and ―shall‖, and we
finally ended up with ―shilly-shally‖.
―dispute‖ and ―argument‖

An argument is usually a verbal disagreement between two people; it may or may not be
something serious. The word is always used as a noun.

*The couple got into an argument over which movie to see. *The argument got pretty
serious. I could hear the Manager shouting.

A dispute, unlike an argument, is something which can last for a very long time and is
frequently marked by heated exchanges. It is something serious, and takes place between
two parties — they can be two organisations, countries and individuals. The word can be
used as a noun and a verb.

*The dispute between the two countries has been going on for several decades. When you
dispute something, you are raising serious objections. You are stating very strongly that
you are objecting to it. *I dispute the claim that we have the best cricket team in the
world.

How is the word ―suite‖ pronounced?

It is pronounced like the word ―sweet‖. When you reserve a suite in a hotel, you get a set
of rooms — a bedroom, a sitting room and a bathroom. Many big hotels have a
―Honeymoon suite‖. The word ―suite‖ can also be used with reference to furniture. It
refers to matching pieces of furniture.

Is it okay to say, ―The convict would be hung tomorrow‖?

No, it isn‘t. Careful users of the language would prefer the use of ―hanged‖ rather than
―hung‖. The word ―hung‖ is usually used with objects and not with human beings.

Here are a few examples. *Sarita hung her new coat on the doorknob. *The outlaw who
had killed 12 people was hanged at noon.

Will be /would be

Secondly, in your example, you should say, ―will be hanged‖ rather than ―would be
hanged‖. The use of ―would‖ suggests that the event may not take place. For example, if
you say, ―I would help you‖, it implies that you want to help me, but for some reason you
are not in a position to. ―I would help you if I could. But I can‘t‖. The use of ―would‖
suggests a condition. ―I would marry you,‖ for example, implies that you would consider
marrying the person if certain other conditions were met — perhaps if he/she had more
money, or had been more handsome/beautiful! These conditions are not going to be met;
therefore, you are not going to marry the person! Your sentence should be ―The convict
will be hanged tomorrow.‖

funny bone‖
Posted by Sunil Jose on March 1, 2009

The funny bone extends from the shoulder joint to the elbow, and as we all know from
experience, getting hit on this bone is anything but funny. When we accidentally bump
our elbow against a hard surface, we get an uncomfortable tingling sensation. We feel a
sting shooting from the forearm to the little finger. Then why is the bone called ―funny
bone‖? Simple. The medical term for this bone is ―humerus‖; it is pronounced the same
way as ―humorous‖! Hence the name ―funny bone‖. Are you amused?

Which is correct? ―It is I‖ or ―It is me‖?

Posted by Sunil Jose on March 1, 2009

Both are correct, but if you say, ―It is I‖ people will know that you have learnt your
English from books — old grammar books! When somebody asks, ―Who is it‖ and you
reply, ―It‘s I‖, he/she may laugh. The individual will think that you are trying to be
pompous. Nobody really says, ―It‘s I‖ these days; it‘s considered old fashioned.
Nowadays, the standard response is, ―It‘s me!‖, or just ―Me!‖.

―exalt‖ and ―exult‖

When you exalt someone or something you praise the individual or the object a lot. It is
considered to be a formal word.
*His sycophants exalted the achievements of the minister. * Harsha‘s new novel exalts
the virtues of honesty and hard work.
When you exult, you express great pleasure or happiness; you rejoice.
*Millions of fans exulted in winning the first test. *The captain exulted, ―We have been
waiting for this for fifty years‖.
In the case of both words, the main stress is on the second syllable.

‖ beef with someone‖ / ―beef about something‖

―beef with someone‖ is a slang expression which means to have a problem or a conflict
with someone.
Here are a few examples. *I can assure you that I really don‘t have a beef with Vasu.
*Like most young brides, Savithri has beef against her mother-in-law.
When someone beefs about something, they constantly keep complaining about it.
*Mala keeps beefing about the quality of food in the canteen. *Naveen, I don‘t want to
hear any more beef from you.

goody two-shoes‖
Someone who tries to behave better than others is usually referred to as ―goody two
shoes‖. The individual, a hypocrite, tries to put on a great show of goodness. The
expression is usually used with woman and has a negative connotation.
*Devi is no goody two-shoes. She just wants to stay out of trouble.
The name comes from the title character in the 1776 book “The History of Little Goody
Two Shoes―. Goody is actually the short form of ―Goodwife‖, a 16th Century equivalent
of ―Mrs.‖.

―have a millstone around one‘s neck‖

A ―millstone‖ is the flat circular stone, which in the olden days was used to grind grain. I
am sure people in villages still use millstones. Anyway, these stones are pretty heavy, and
therefore when you say that you have a millstone about or around your neck, what you
are implying is that you are carrying a heavy responsibility. This responsibility or
problem becomes the focus of your life and it prevents you from doing what you really
want to do.
Here is an example. *The numerous assignments were like a millstone around Radha‘s
neck.

―call upon‖ and ―drop in on‖

When dignitaries from abroad come to India, they call upon the President and the Prime
Minister. In other words, they visit these people. When you call upon someone, you pay
the individual a visit after getting his permission. In other words, you make an
appointment first and then visit him. You cannot call upon someone at the spur of the
moment. If you are in Washington D.C for example, you cannot walk up to the White
House and inform the guard that you would like to call upon Bush.
When you visit someone without informing him, i.e without letting him know in advance
that you are coming over — you are ―dropping in on‖ him. Our friends drop in on us.
People who hold important positions are called upon/on.
Here are a few examples. *The Secretary of State called on the Prime Minister. *I don‘t
plan on calling upon the President while I am in Austria. *Is it OK if I drop in on you
some time next week?

Is it ok to write ―Mrs. & Mr.‖ instead of ―Mr. & Mrs.‖?

I guess within India there is nothing wrong in writing ―Mrs. & Mr.‖ on an envelope. Most
invitations are addressed to ―Smt. & Sri‖. In our country, it is always ladies first – at least
when it comes to invitations. Some women would argue that it‘s about the only time
when ladies get preference over men. But then, that‘s neither here nor there. Native
speakers of English however would find ―Mrs. & Mr.‖ pretty odd. At the University of
Georgia, a professor received a threatening letter from a student. The police were asked
to investigate the matter; after reading the letter a couple of times they realized that it
must have been written by an Indian. Why? The letter was addressed to ―Mrs. & Mr.‖ So
if you go abroad and decide to write a threatening letter to your professor, make sure that
you don‘t make such a silly mistake!

―stipend‖ and ―scholarship‖

A `scholarship‘ is money given to students and researchers in order to help them continue
with their studies. Scholarships are usually provided by educational institutions or private
organizations on the basis of a student‘s academic merit and/or economic necessity. A
scholarship may or may not include a monthly income which will help the student meet
his living expenses. It may merely help the student pay his tuition fees.
―Stipend‖ comes from the Latin ―stipendium‖ meaning ―soldier‘s pay‖. It is a fixed
amount of money paid at regular intervals for services rendered. In Britain, for example,
members of the clergy are paid stipends. In American English, a stipend is the amount of
money that is given to a student in order to meet his living expenses. In other words,
some scholarships not only take care of the fees, but also provide a stipend. This explains
why some universities specify that their research scholarship includes a monthly stipend
of $1000 dollars.

―asleep at the switch‖

―When you accuse someone of being asleep at the switch, what you are implying is that
he is not doing his job. ―
Examples: The dacoits managed to break into the house because the watchman was
asleep at the switch.‖ * ―Hari is a professor in a university. He can afford to be asleep at
the switch.‖ *‖According to Richard Clark, 9/11 happened because President Bush and
his team were asleep at the switch.‖

―bright-eyed and bushy-tailed‖

When you say that someone looks bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, what you are implying is
that the individual is alert and ready to do something. In other words, he is ready for
action.
Examples: ―After a two hour nap, the baby woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.‖ *
―Babies have the habit of waking up in the middle of the night bright-eyed and bushy-
tailed.‖ * ―Could someone please tell that bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young man to
stop making such a racket?‖ * ―My class is full of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed
individuals.‖

‗Cheek by jowl‘
Lower cheeks which hang down towards the jaw are called ‗jowl‘. The word ‗jawl‘
rhymes with `owl‘, `foul‘, and `prowl‘.
The expression `cheek by jowl‘ means very close together. The expression is normally
used to mean `close together‘ or `side by side‘.
Examples: The students had to walk cheek by jowl along the narrow corridors. * In some
cities, several families live cheek by jowl in a single house. * Swayambu and Gayathri
were standing cheek by jowl, but the two refused to acknowledge each other.‖

―gabfest‖

A gabfest is an event where people get together in order to chat or gossip.


For example, there‘s a gabfest going on in the ladies hostel.* ―There‘s always a gabfest
going on in the canteen.‖ ―Sometimes the gabfest gets so loud that you have to ask people
to pipe down.‖

Which is correct? ―One of the cars have run out of gas‖ or ―one of the cars
has ……‖?

In such sentences ―one of‖ is usually followed by a singular verb. So in this case, it
should be ―has run of gas‖.
Here are a few more examples. *One of the children was hurt in the accident. *One of the
mangoes was rotten. *One of the football teams was about to be relegated.

How is the word ―repertoire‖ pronounced?

The ―rep‖ in the first syllable sounds like the word ―pep‖; the following ―er‖ is like the
―a‖ in ―china‖. The ―to‖ is like the ―tw‖ in ―twin‖, ―twist‖, and ―twine‖. The ―i‖ is like
the ―a‖ in ―bath‖, ―path‖, and ―palm‖. The final ―re‖ is silent. The main stress is on the
first syllable. The word has several different meanings. When you talk about an
individual‘s repertoire, you are talking about all the things that he is capable of doing.
*Bala‘s impressive repertoire of jokes kept Garima amused. *Unfortunately, the googly
is not in the young bowler‘s repertoire.

―Faustian deal‖

When the U.S. announced that Pakistan would be made a major non-NATO ally, some
newspapers in India announced that the Bush administration had struck a Faustian deal
with Pakistan.
A ―Faustian deal‖ is a bargain made with the devil. In this case, what the papers seem to
be suggesting is that Musharraf is a devil! Not a nice thing to say when our players are on
a so called ―friendship tour‖. Faust or Faustus was a German astrologer who practised
black magic. According to the story, he sold his soul to the devil in order to gain
knowledge and power. Someone who has made a pact with the devil for some desired
goal is called a Faust or Faustus.
The expression Faustian deal is used nowadays to mean a bargain made for temporary
gain without taking into consideration future consequences.

―second cousin‖

According to most dictionaries, your uncle‘s or aunt‘s kids are your first cousins. The
children of your parents‘ first cousins are your second cousins.

―get on the soapbox‖

Whenever you see George Bush on T.V, what do you expect him to be talking about?
Terrorism, of course! He has lots to say about it, and since 9/11 it has become his
soapbox – in other words, it has become his favourite topic. When an individual gets on
his soapbox, he talks about something that he feels very strongly about. In most cases, the
people listening to him are usually bored because they have heard him express his
opinion many times.
Here are a few examples. *Raju got on the soapbox and started telling the children about
the evils of smoking. *Please don‘t get on the soapbox and tell us about the benefits of
family planning. *I‘d like to talk about illiteracy. It‘s a soapbox of mine.
In the old days, when people wished to make a speech in a place of public gathering, they
usually stood on a wooden box and spoke. They did this in order that everyone in the
audience could see them. This wooden box was called a ―soapbox‖ and anyone who got
on the soapbox was going to talk about something that he felt very strongly about.

up-and-coming‖ and ―upcoming‖

When you refer to an individual as being ―up-and-coming‖ what you mean is that he/she
is likely to be very successful in the future. The individual is bright and industrious and is
going to make a very good career for himself.
*The up-and-coming star, Jyotsna, was at the party. *According to the coach, Anand is an
up-and-coming batsman.
―Upcoming‖ is used to refer to events that are likely to happen in the near future.
*Some people are worried that there may be violence in the upcoming elections. *Prof.
Shyamraj plans to be in Greece for the upcoming Olympic games.

―endemic‖ and ―epidemic‖

A disease which is endemic is always present in a particular region. It‘s common among
the people who live there.
*I am told that the disease is endemic among sheep and cattle in the tropics.
The word can also be used figuratively. When you refer to a problem as being endemic,
what you are implying is that it is a common problem, which cannot be dealt with easily.
*Racism is endemic in many cities in America. *Discrimination against women is
endemic in our country.
An ―epidemic‖ is a disease, which spreads quickly across a country/state and affects a
large number of people. It is an outbreak.
*The doctor warned me to be careful as there was a flu epidemic sweeping across the
state. If an activity that you don‘t approve of is seen to be increasing rapidly, then you
can refer to it as being an ―epidemic‖. *The Principal said that cheating in exams had
reached ―epidemic proportions‖.

Which is correct? ―Relieved of‖ or ―relieved off‖?

You usually relieve someone ―of‖ something. When you relieve someone of something,
what you are doing is removing the burden from the individual. Here are a few examples.
*After failing in three tests, he was relieved of his captaincy.
*The Board wants to relieve Mr. Narayana of his post. The expression can also be used in
informal contexts to mean to take care/charge of something. *Let me relieve you of your
umbrella and sweater.

Is it ok to say ―the shoe has a fascination for me‖?

I suppose you could say it, provided your shoe is alive and has feelings for you! Such
things are possible in stories, but not in real life. It is you who has a fascination for the
shoe, not the other way around. When you have a fascination for something or someone,
it means that you are fascinated by the object or person. Here are a few examples.
*Ananya has had a fascination for cricket all her life. *According to the newspaper
report, the killer has a fascination for blondes.

―chokers‖

When India lost the one-day series against Australia, some people commented that our
team consisted of a bunch of ―chokers‖. A ―choker‖ is someone who doesn‘t perform
well under pressure. When the going gets tough, the choker doesn‘t get going. He folds
up like a pack of cards; he fails to perform to his potential.
*You can‘t rely on Jai when the going gets tough. He is a choker. *Kim Clisters always
seems to choke in the final of a grand slam.

―To set the Thames on fire‖


The ―th‖ in ―Thames‖ is like the ―t‖ in ―ten‖, ―tell‖, and ―test‖. The following ―ames‖
sounds like ―ems‖ in ―gems‖. ―Thames‖, as you are probably aware, is the name of a
river in England. Everyone knows that it is impossible to set a river on fire. But if you
manage to do it, what will be the result? People would start talking about you; you would
become famous. That‘s what the expression ―to set the Thames on fire‖ means, to achieve
far-reaching success; to make a name for oneself.
*Everyone is talking about Indra‘s new play. It is really setting the Thames on fire. *We
thought that our team would do fairly well in the championship. We certainly didn‘t
expect them to set the Thames on fire.
When the expression went to America, they replaced the word ―Thames‖ with ―river‖.
Nowadays, it is much more common to hear someone say, ―set the world on fire‖, instead
of ―set the Thames on fire‖. When you say that something is ―not going to set the
Thames/world/river on fire‖ what you mean is that it is not very exciting or successful.
Here is an example. *The food in the new restaurant is good. But it‘s not going to set the
world/Thames on fire.

―shot in the arm‖

When you are feeling down and someone gives you a pep talk and makes you feel better,
you can say that the talk was a shot in the arm. A shot in the arm is something that makes
you feel better; it is something that encourages you.
Here are a few examples. *A few words of encouragement from the teacher was the shot
in the arm that Anwesha was looking for.*The fact that the Director remembered his
name was a shot in the arm for Naresh.
This is just one of the meanings of the expression. Taking alcohol or drugs in order to
make oneself feel better is also called ―shot in the arm‖.
*Vinod asked the bartender for another shot in the arm. *Oh, don‘t worry. This is just a
shot in the arm.

―franchise‖

The ―a‖ in the first syllable is like the ―a‖ in ―cat‖, ―bat‖, and ―rat‖; the second syllable
rhymes with ―prize‖, ―rise‖, and ―lies‖. The main stress is on the first syllable. The word
has several different meanings. One of them is an individual‘s right to vote in an election.
*In many European countries, women were not given the franchise until the 20th
Century. *It was years later that the franchise was extended to include women.
A ―franchise‖ is also when a company or an organisation gives you the right to sell its
products or services in a particular area using its name.
Here are a few examples. *Ramesh has been given the franchise to sell our clothing line.
*Karthick lost the franchise when he was unable to meet the required standards of
service. *Tara is unwilling to start a franchise.
―between the devil and the deep blue sea‖

When someone gives you a choice and you reply by saying that the choice is between the
devil and the deep blue sea, what you are implying is that you are faced with having to
choose between two very unpleasant situations. In other words, you don‘t really have
much of a choice; either way you end up doing something risky or undesirable. The
idiom has the same meaning as ―between Scylla and Charybdis‖.
Here are a few examples. *The villain‘s henchmen were close behind him, and the river
in front of him was full of hungry crocodiles. Caught between the devil and the deep blue
sea, Mani hesitated. *If he marries Rita, Bala knows he will be unhappy for the rest of his
life. If he doesn‘t marry her, his parents will be angry with him. Talk about being
between the devil and the deep blue sea!

―danseuse‖

The French ―danseuse‖, a word, which is quite popular in our country, is not included in
all dictionaries. The first syllable is pronounced like the word ―don‖, while the second
sounds like the word ―sirs‖. The main stress is on the second syllable. In French, the
word is used to refer to a female ballet dancer. The male counterpart is called ―danseur‖.
In India, the word ―danseuse‖ is used to refer to a woman who is an exponent of any style
of classical dancing — Bharatnatyam, Kuchipuddi or Kathak.

WHICH IS correct? ―None of us is impressed‖ or ―None of us are ……‖?

Both are correct. The first sentence would be considered to be more formal than the
second. When you use ―none of‖ before a plural noun or pronoun, the verb that follows
can be either singular or plural.
*I am told that none of Ajay‘s articles has/have been published abroad.*I can assure you
that none of them is/are any good.
When ―none of‖ is used before uncountable nouns or singular pronouns, the verb that
follows is singular.
*None of this has resulted in controversy.

―hunky-dory‖

When you say that something is hunky-dory, it means it‘s fine or okay. This is an
expression mostly used in informal contexts.

Clued up on something

When you are clued up on something, it means that you know a lot about the subject. The
expression is normally used to show approval.
Example, ―I enjoy talking to Devidas. He is always clued up on whatever he is talking
about.‖ * ―Some people say that I always give the impression that I am clued up on
whatever I talk about.‖

―Miffed‖

When you get miffed It means that you are angry or hurt by something that someone has
done or said.
Examples, ―I was miffed when Naresh refused to help me.‖* ―The students were miffed
when the teacher refused to cancel the class.‖ * ―My cousin was pretty miffed when his
father cut him out of his will.‖

―Siege mentality‖

―If a group of people have a `siege mentality‘ they think that others are out to get them.
They constantly have this feeling that everyone is trying to harm or defeat them.‖
Here‘s an example. The findings suggested that many in the police department had a
siege mentality that isolated them from the common people whom they were supposed to
serve and protect.‖ * ―According to the newspaper report the constant threat of sniper
attack is pushing the U.S. forces into a siege mentality.‖

―Antsy‖ / ―have ants in one‘s pants‘

Antsy means nervous or restless.


For example, ―I can say, Aravind becomes antsy before an exam.‖ * ―My cousin Rajeev
was really antsy before his first job interview.‖* ―I think your cousin is an antsy sort of
guy.‖
`antsy‘ means the same thing as `have ants in one‘s pants‘.
Example, Why do you look like you have ants in your pants? Is it because of the test?‖

―lingua franca‖

The first syllable ―ling‖ is like the ―sing‖ in ―single‖, and ―singular‖; the final ―a‖ in the
two words is like the ―a‖ in ―china‖. The ―u‖ sounds like the ―w‖ in ―water‖, ―wet‖, and
―well‖. The first syllable of ―franca‖ sounds like the word ―frank‖. The main stress is on
the first syllable of ―franca‖.
When south Indians who don‘t know Hindi travel to the northern states, what language
do they use in order to communicate with the people there? If they are educated, they
might use English. In this case, English becomes the common language between two
groups of people whose mother tongue is different. English becomes the ―lingua franca‖.
A ―lingua franca‖ is the language that is used for the purpose of communication between
people who live in an area where several languages are spoken.
Here are a few examples. *For many educated Indians, English has become the lingua
franca. *I was informed by my friend that Swahili is the principal lingua franca in East
Africa. *When the four of them get together, Gujarati becomes the lingua franca.

Difference in pronunciation between ―beer‖ and ―bear‖

Posted by Sunil Jose on February 17, 2009

The word ―beer‖ rhymes with ―dear‖, ―fear‖, and ―near‖. ―Bear‖, on the other hand,
rhymes with ―fair‖, ―air‖, and ―share‖.

Is it ―eighty foot road‖ or ―eighty feet road‖?

It‘s eighty-foot road. Whenever a noun is used as an adjective (i.e. it is placed before
another noun), it is normally used in the singular. For example, we say ―five rupee coin‖
and not ―five rupees coin‖. Similarly, we talk about a ―two mile race‖ and not a ―two
miles race‖.
Here are a few more examples.
*Padma is going on a two-week vacation. *Padma is going to be on leave for two weeks.
*Karthick‘s ten-year-old son has come first in class. *Karthick‘s son is ten years old.
*Saurab has bought a forty-foot boat. *The boat is forty feet in length.

Expressions – ―Socks off‖

When you try something for the first time and you say ―It knocked the socks off‖, what
you are implying is that it was excellent. This informal expression is normally used when
you want to say that something is very exciting or good. It is also possibly to say, ―blow
the socks off someone‖.
*I went to the new gym yesterday. The place simply knocked my socks off. *Archana,
taste this juice. It will blow your socks off.*The movie was really moving. It knocked my
socks off.
When someone ―bores the socks off you‖, they bore you completely.
Here are a few more expressions. *I attended Madhavan‘s lecture. He bored the socks off
everyone. *Meera played tennis with Paul. She beat the socks off him. *Please be careful
with that guy. He can charm the socks off anyone.

―incidence‖ and ―incident


The word ―incident‖ is normally used to describe an event or an occurrence. The event or
occurrence may or may not be important. In its original sense, the word was used to mean
―a subordinate or trivial event‖.
*A husband beating up his wife is an ordinary incident of daily life in this
neighbourhood. *The newspaper claims that there were several incidents along the border
last week. *If I were you, I wouldn‘t let such a minor incident upset me.
The ―incidence‖ of something is the frequency with which it occurs.
*The incidence of colon cancer is on the rise in our country. *The locality in which
Gayathri lives has a high incidence of crime. *According to the doctor, the incidence of
typhoid increases during the monsoon season.
The stress in the case of both words is on the first syllable.

Is it ok to pronounce the ―t‖ in often?

Yes, it is. Most people pronounce the first syllable ―oft‖ like the word ―off‖, the ―e‖ in
the second syllable is like ―a‖ in ―china‖. Some people however pronounce the ―t‖ as
well. Whether you pronounce the ―t‖ or not, the main stress is on the first syllable.

What is the story behind ―Narcissus‖?

The ―ar‖ is pronounced like the ―ar‖ in ‗bar‖, ―par‖, and ―tar‖. The ―ciss‖ is like the word
―sis‖, and the final ―u‖ is like the ―a‖ in ―china‖. The main stress is on the second
syllable.
According to Greek mythology, Narcissus, the son of Cephisus, was a handsome youth.
Echo fell madly in love with him; unfortunately Narcissus didn‘t reciprocate her love.
Echo was so heartbroken that she simply faded away. Only her bones and voice
remained.
Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance became so angry that she cursed Narcissus. She made
him fall in love with his own reflection. Poor Narcissus kept pining away looking at his
reflection in the waters of a fountain. Guess what happened next? According to the story,
he turned into a flower. ―Narcissism‖ is the habit of always thinking about yourself and
admiring yourself.

―sachet‖

The ―a‖ in the first syllable is like the ―a‖ in ―act‖, ―pact‖ and ―fact‖. The ―ch‖ sounds
like the ―sh‖ in ―should‖, ―sheep‖, and ―ship‖. The following ―e‖ is like the ―ay‖ in
―hay‖, ―pay‖, and ―may‖. The final ―t‖ is silent. In British English, the stress is on the
first syllable, and in American English, the stress is on the second.
A ―sachet‖ is a sealed plastic bag, which usually contains a small amount of something
— sugar, salt, shampoo, etc.
*As a freebie, Janaki got a sachet of shampoo. *John always keeps a sachet of sugar in
his pocket. *Bala tore open a sachet of ketchup and poured it on his cutlet.
Another word which is pronounced the same way is ―sashay‖. Once again, the stress can
be either on the first or the second syllable. When you ―sashay‖ into a room what you are
doing is walking into it in a manner that draws the attention of everyone.
*Kamala sashayed past her former boyfriend without bothering to look at him. *People
gaped as Latha and Hamsa sashayed down the stairs.

―willy-nilly‖

The ―i‖ and the ―y‖ in both words are pronounced like the ―i‖ in ―bit‖, ―pit‖, and ―hit‖.
The main stress is on the first syllable of ―nilly‖. When you do something ―willy-nilly‖,
you are doing it without any planning, and as a result it is done in a careless and
disorganised way.
*The clerk filed away the papers willy-nilly. *Achala and Ananya threw their clothes
willy-nilly into the suitcase.
Another meaning of ―willy-nilly‖ is being forced into doing something whether you like
it or not. In other words, you become a participant in something willingly or unwillingly.
*Poor Ganeshan was dragged into the fight willy-nilly. *The teachers made sure that all
students participated willy-nilly.

―I wish I was a minister‖ or ―I wish I were a minister‖.

Depending on the context, both are correct. People who love grammar will argue that
after ―if‖, ―were‖ should be used and not ―was‖. Even if the subject is singular, the verb
that follows ―if‖ must be plural. Therefore in the two examples you have given, in formal
contexts, ―were‖ would be the correct answer. Here are a few examples. *If I were
Spiderman, I would swing from Mount Everest every now and then. *If her nose were a
little longer, she would be really pretty.
In informal contexts, however, even native speakers of English, use the singular ―was‖.
You can get away with ―was‖ in ordinary conversation. *If I was Spiderman, I would rob
a bank every day. *If Sujatha was to go to Chennai, she would lose her job.

How is the word ―psyche‖ pronounced?

The ―psy‖ in the first syllable is pronounced like the word ―sigh‖ The ―che‖ is like the
―ki‖ in ―kit‖, ―kiss‖, and ―kill‖. The main stress is on the first syllable.

premier‖ and ―premiere‖


Both words are pronounced the same way. The ―e‖ in the first syllable is like the ―e‖ in
―set‖, ―bet‖, and ―met‖. The second syllable rhymes with ―near‖, ―dear‖, and ―fear‖. In
British English, the stress in the case of both words is on the first syllable.
The leader of a country is sometimes referred to as ―premier‖. For example, we can say,
―Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the premier of India, will be visiting Japan next week.‖ The word
can also be used to mean the best or the most important.
*Ten years ago, this was one of the premier colleges in the state. *We have invited the
country‘s premier drama company to entertain the foreign delegates. *As the nation‘s
premier scientist, funding is no problem for him.
The first public performance of a new play or a film is usually called a ―premiere‖. In
other words, the play or film is shown to the public for the first time. *The film had its
premiere last week. *The film‘s director wants the premiere to be postponed to
December. *Mohan‘s documentary was premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival.

Is it OK to say ―sponsorers‖?

Though we hear a lot of people in our country use this word, ―sponsorer‖ doesn‘t actually
exist. Someone who is willing to support your show or cause by giving you money or
encouragement is usually called a ―sponsor‖, not ―sponsorer‖. If you have more than one
sponsor, then they are called ―sponsors‖. Here are a few examples. *Some of the
sponsors were unwilling to make the necessary changes. *If it is a one day international,
we won‘t have problems finding sponsors.

Why can‘t we say ―chairwoman‖?

There is nothing, which prevents you from using the word. You can use ―chairwoman‖ if
you want to. But since this is the age of political correctness, the more appropriate word
would be ―chairperson‖. Native speakers are trying hard to make English gender free —
in other words, they are attempting to get rid of the pro masculine image that the
language has. For example, the word ―actor‖ is now being used to refer to both men and
women. ―Authoress‖ and ―stewardess‖ have become old fashioned; they have been
replaced by ―author‖ and ―flight attendant‖. Similarly, ―spokesperson‖, ―businessperson‖,
―mail carrier‖, and ―police officer‖ are replacing ―spokesman‖, ―businessman‖,
―mailman‖, and ―policeman‖.

―give a dog a bad name and hang him‖

―Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the


immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.‖ That‘s what Cassio says in
Shakespeare‘s ―Othello‖. Once someone has lost his reputation, it is very difficult for the
individual to regain it. When a person is caught stealing, he is forever thought of as a
thief. He is branded a thief for the rest of his life. No matter what he does later on, he is
usually associated with the one thing that he has done wrong. People continue to
condemn him for the criminal act. The expression ―give a dog a bad name and hang him‖
is used to mean when an individual acquires a bad name, he gets stuck with it. It is also
possible to replace ―bad‖ with ―ill‖.
Here are a few examples. *Harish was arrested because there was a burglary in his
neighbourhood. The poor guy wasn‘t even in town. I think it‘s a case of give a dog a bad
name and hang him. *Nothing that Ram does will convince Janaki that he is being honest
with her. It‘s a case of give a dog an ill name and hang him.
Another expression which has more or less the same meaning is ―He that has an ill name
is half hanged‖.

sceptic‖ and ―cynic‖

A ―sceptic‖ is someone who doubts everything that most people take for granted. He
doubts the value of an idea or a belief. Scepticism is the great doubt that an individual has
whether something is useful or true. The Americans spell the word ―skeptic‖.
Here are a few examples. *Harish tried hard to convince the sceptic of the truth. *The
chairman said that the economy would improve, but Raju remained skeptical.
While a ―sceptic‖ has reservations about things, a cynic has a negative attitude about
everything. The word has a negative connation. A cynic is someone who doesn‘t believe
that people can be good. When people are good, he believes that they are being nice
because they have an ulterior motive. A cynic does not trust or respect the goodness of
other people. The school of Cynics was started by Antisthenes and he and his followers
believed that virtue was the only good. They felt that the only way to remain virtuous was
through self-discipline and independence. It‘s strange that a word that began by having a
positive meaning ended up with a negative one.
*Bela is too much of a cynic to believe anything I say. *Gajendran has always been
cynical about politicians.

How is the word ―voyeur‖ pronounced?

―Voy‖ rhymes with ―boy‖, ―coy‖, and ―toy‖. The final ―eur‖ is like the ―eer‖ in ―beer‖,
―deer‖, and ―seer‖. The main stress is on the final syllable. This is one way of
pronouncing the word.

Is it OK to say, ―Long time no see‖?

Yes, it is. This is an informal way of greeting someone you haven‘t met or seen in a long
time. It‘s an expression that is mostly used in American English. It‘s another way of
saying ―I haven‘t seen you in a long time.‖
*Hey, how are you? Long time no see. *Long time no see. What have you been up to?

―I searched for the room‖ and ―I searched the room‖


When you ―search for‖ something you are looking for it. In this case, you are trying to
find the room. Perhaps you are staying in a hotel. You have lost your way and are unable
to locate your room. Happens to all of us some time or the other.
Here are a few more examples. *Ganesh and Sarita spent nearly an hour searching for the
necklace. *The police have been searching the woods for the missing man.
When you ―search the room‖, you are already in the room and trying to find something.
In other words, you are looking for something inside the room. When Income Tax
officials raid someone‘s house, they go through all the rooms; they search the rooms
hoping to find something incriminating — documents, black money, etc.
*The detective searched the room and found incriminating documents. *Reema prevented
the police from searching her suitcase.

―to bury the hatchet‖

A ―hatchet‖ is an axe; the kind of axe that American Indians (Native Americans as they
are called now) always carried with them. When you bury the hatchet what you are doing
is resolving your differences with another individual. You are making peace with
him/her.
Example: *After twenty years of being at war, the two countries decided to bury the
hatchet.
Burying the hatchet was something that the Native Americans used to do when they
wanted to make peace with someone. Unfortunately for them, they made a similar gesture
to the white men who had settled down in New England. Writing in 1680, Samuel Sewell
said: ―Meeting with the Sachem (Indian chiefs), they came to an agreement and buried
two axes in the ground, which ceremony to them is more significant and binding than all
the Articles of Peace, the hatchet being the principal weapon.‖ Unfortunately for the
Indians, the white man didn‘t think much of this gesture because years later he
slaughtered the Indians by the thousands, and herded those that were alive into what are
now called ―reservations‖. What is interesting is that today this country (the U.S.) is busy
preaching to the rest of the world the virtues of democracy!

cachet‖

The ―a‖ is like the ―a‖ in ―cat‖, ―bat‖ and ―sat‖. The final ―et‖ is pronounced like the ―ay‖
in ―say‖, ‗bay‖, and ―may‖. The ―ch‖ is like the ―sh‖ in ―should‖, ―sheep‖, and ―ship‖.
The main stress can be either on the first or the second syllable. The British put it on the
first syllable, while the Americans tend to stress the second.
The word ―cachet‖ refers to the special mark that is put on articles that are of very high
value. When used with a person, it refers to the special quality that an individual has
which wins him the respect and admiration of others. Tendulkar, for example, has a
certain cachet; he has the respect and admiration of a lot of people because of his exploits
on the cricket field. Here are a few examples. *Balu‘s success as a movie producer has
won him a certain cachet in the industry. *Driving a Rolls Royce has a certain cachet.

―De facto‖ and ―de jure‖

When you say that someone is the de facto Chief Minister what you mean is that he is
one who is making the decisions as to how the State should be run — this individual may
or may not be the one who has been elected, but he is the person calling the shots. In
other words, he may not be the legal Chief Minister, but acts like one. Here are a few
examples. *Ramesh is the de facto president of the company. *His election was
constantly challenged, but he continued to rule de facto.
Like ―de facto‖, ―de jure‖ comes from Latin. In both the words, the ―de‖ sounds like
―day‖. The ―u‖ in ―jure‖ is pronounced like the ―ure‖ in ―sure‖, ―cure‖, and ―pure‖. The
―re‖ in the second syllable, sounds like the word ―ray‖. Some people pronounce the ―e‖
like the ―i‖ in ―sit‖, ―bit‖, and ―hit‖. The main stress is on the first syllable of ―jure‖.
What does the word mean? It means ―by right, according to law‖. While a ―de facto‖ king
may or may not be the actual king, a ―de jure‖ king is in fact the legal king. In law, ―de
jure‖ is considered to be the opposite of ―de facto‖. Here are a few examples. *He is the
de jure king of our country. *He is the Prime Minister de jure.

―Bone of contention‖

When people belonging to these two groups get together, they have big arguments, which
very often lead to unpleasant situations. When you say that something is the ―bone of
contention‖ what you mean is that it is a source of trouble; it causes dissension.
Individuals fight over something like several dogs fighting over a single bone. Here are a
few examples. *The dam has always been a bone of contention between the two states.
*The main bone of contention was deciding which Minister would be garlanded first.

―Baloney‖

This word comes from ―bolognia‖ which is a smoked sausage made from several
different meats. In American English it is spelt ―baloney‖, and the word is frequently
used in informal contexts to mean ―nonsense‖. Here is an example. *The reason that he
gave for going to war was pure baloney.

Moon phrases‖

mooning around/around
When you ―moon about‖ or ―moon around‖ what you are doing is wandering about
aimlessly or listlessly. You are wasting your time.
Examples: Ever since he lost his job, Arun has been mooning about at home* Listen you
guys, we have a lot of work to do. Don‘t just stand there mooning around.
Mooner
―Well, mooning around means wasting one‘s time. So is a person who moons around
called a ―mooner?‖ ―Yes. You won‘t find it in most dictionaries, though. It‘s considered
slang.
A mooner is a lazy fellow who wastes his time by keeping looking at the moon.
Examples: ―I feel like being a mooner tonight.‖ * ―I am sure Rahul will come up in life
once he stops being a mooner.‖

Moonlighting
The word has several different meanings. One of the meanings is to take up an additional
job. A second job.‖
―But why moonlighting?‖ ―Because the second job is usually a night job.‖
Examples: ― There are many people in our country who have to moonlight in order to
earn enough money to feed their family.‖ *‖If I don‘t get my promotion soon, then I am
afraid that I will be forced to moonlight. Finding it extremely difficult to make ends
meet.‖

Something is not all moonlight and roses


―When you say that something is not all moonlight and roses, what you mean is that it is
not always pleasant.‖
Examples: ―Pretty soon you will learn that life is not all moonlight and roses.‖ * ―My
cousin tells me that living in America isn‘t all moonlight and roses.‖

Ask for the moon


The expression asking for the moon, means to ask for the impossible.
Examples: ―President Bush wants democracy to spread all over the Middle East. Frankly,
I think he‘s asking for the moon.‖ * ―We keep asking our politicians for a clean
administration. Do you think we are asking for the moon?‖ * ―My neighbour‘s wife
wants her husband to go on a diet and lose about twenty pounds. I think she is asking for
the moon.‖

―gobbledygook‖

The ―o‖ in the first syllable is like the ―o‖ in ―cot‖, ―hot‖, and ―got‖; the following ―e‖ is
silent. The ―y‖ is pronounced like the ―i‖ in ―it‖, ―pit‖, and ―sit‖, and the final ―oo‖ sound
like the ―oo‖ in ―pool‖, ―cool‖, and ―tool‖. The main stress is on the first syllable.
When you describe a piece of writing as being ―gobbledygook‖ what you mean is that it
is very complicated. The writer has used extremely long sentences with big words — the
kind of language that bureaucrats normally use to confuse the public. As a result, when
you read such a piece of writing you can‘t usually make any sense of it. As far as you are
concerned it is ―gobbledygook‖; it is nonsense. This word, which is mostly used in
informal contexts, can be used to refer to someone‘s speech as well.
Here are a few examples. *Whenever we asked a question, the answers came back in
legal gobbledygook. *Don‘t bother reading the article. It is nothing more than
gobbledygook. *Talk to me in a language that I understand. I don‘t want any of your
gobbledygook.
According to some scholars ―gobbledygook‖ is a word that was invented by a
Congressman by the name of Maury Maverick. Apparently he became so disgusted with
the language used by officials that he issued the following memo: ―Be short and say what
you are talking about. Stop ―pointing up‖ programmes. No more ―finalising‖,
―effectuating‖, or ―dynamics‖. Anyone using the words ―activation‖ or ―implementation‖
will be shot.‖ If only some Minister would write such a note to our bureaucrats. Oh by
the way, ―gobble‖ is the sound that a turkey makes.

―cite‖ and ―quote‖

When you quote someone what you are doing is repeating what he/she has said or
written. You use the exact words that the individual has used; when you quote, you are
reproducing and not paraphrasing.
Here are a few examples. *My father loves to quote Shakespeare. *I have a lousy
memory. I find it extremely difficult to quote people. *In tomorrow‘s test I expect you to
quote some of the important lines from the poem.
When you are having a debate and you cite someone, you are not really reproducing what
he/she has said. You are merely using what he/she has said as proof of what you are
saying. In other words, you normally ―cite‖ someone or something when you wish to
support the point that you are making. You are using what these individuals have said to
substantiate what you are saying. It is for this reason that when you cite, you normally
cite those who are considered to be an authority on the subject.
*Anand cited the low turnout figure as evidence of voter apathy. *The young lawyer
cited several cases to support his argument. *The Minister couldn‘t cite a single
legislation which could support his claim.

―per se‖

First, let‘s deal with the pronunciation. The ―per‖ is pronounced like the word ―per‖ and
the following ―se‖ sounds like the word ―say‖. The main stress is on ―se‖. This is a Latin
expression that means ―of itself‖ or ―by itself‖.
Here are a few examples. *The tablet is not harmful per se, but when taken with alcohol
it can be lethal. *Love, per se, will not always result in a happy marriage.

―back burner‖
The usual expression is ―put something on the back burner‖. Most gas stoves in our
country have two burners. In the U.S., most stoves have four burners — two in the front,
and two in the back. I understand dishes are normally put on the back burner when they
don‘t require the cook‘s immediate attention. So, when you say that you are putting
something on the back burner, what you mean is that you are postponing doing it. You
are putting the work aside because it doesn‘t require your immediate attention.
Here are a few examples. *Right now I am busy getting the plans for the house ready. I
am afraid I‘ll have to put my tennis lessons on the back burner. *Rohini has decided to
put everything on the back burner till the end of the semester. *Bush‘s plans for invading
Syria have been put on the back burner.

How is the word ―tortoise‖ pronounced?

The ―or‖ in the first syllable is like the ―or‖ in ―nor‖ and ―for‖. The ―oi‖ in the second
syllable is like the ―a‖ in ―china‖. The final ―e‖ is silent. The main stress is on the first
syllable.

How do you respond to ―How do you do‖?

It depends on which side of the Atlantic you are from, I guess. People from Britain
usually respond by saying ―How do you do?‖. For them, ―How do you do?‖ is an
expression which is normally used when you are introduced to someone for the first time.
―How do you do?‖ is not the same as ―How are you?‖ For the English, the response to
―How do you do?‖ is ―How do you do?‖ It‘s like our ―namaste‖. When somebody says
―namaste‖, we respond by saying ―namaste‖. Americans, on the other hand, think
differently. You will find that many Americans do not always make a distinction between
―How do you do?‖ and ―How are you?‖ So don‘t be surprised if an American responds to
a ―How do you do?‖ with a ―Fine, thank you‖, or ―Doing good‖.

a ―hotel‖ and a ―restaurant‖

In India, we don‘t really maintain a distinction between the two. We refer to any place
where we eat as a hotel. It‘s not uncommon to hear people say, ―Let‘s go to the hotel and
have a cup of coffee‖. Native speakers of English usually confine the word ―hotel‖ to a
place where one stays when one is away on business or on vacation. It‘s usually a place
where you pay to have a room to sleep in.
The place where one eats is usually called a restaurant. A hotel may have a restaurant or
several restaurants within it. But not every restaurant needs to be part of a hotel. Most of
the Udipi joints where we have our ―dosas‖ and ―puris‖ should be called restaurants. So
is it wrong to call them ―hotels‖? As long as the stuff they dish out tastes good, who
cares! By the way, the word ―hotel‖ has the stress on the second syllable.

―impugn‖
The ―i‖ in the first syllable is like the ―i‖ in ―bit‖, ―sit‖, and ―hit‖. The ―u‖ sounds like the
word ―you‖, and the ―g‖ that follows is silent. The main stress is on the second syllable.
Impugn is a word that is mostly used in formal contexts.
When you impugn someone‘s integrity, what you are doing is questioning his integrity;
you are saying that he does not deserve to be respected or trusted. You are implying that
the individual may not be as honest as he is pretending to be — or as honest as people
think he is.
Here are a few examples. *I hope the scandal does not impugn the good name of my
family in any way. *Geetha could no longer work as a teacher because her reputation had
been impugned. *The lawyer attempted to impugn the reputation of the witness

whistle in the dark‖

This is an expression which is mostly used in informal contexts in American English.


When you whistle in the dark what you are doing is making wild guesses.
Here are a few examples. *Ramesh had no clue what he was saying. He was merely
whistling in the dark. *Am I close to getting the right answer? Or am I whistling in the
dark?

―Stepney‖

Yes, it does. Stepney is actually the name of a street in Llanelli, Wales where the spare
wheels for the motorcar were originally made. Since the tyres were made in Stepney,
spare wheels began to be called ―stepney wheel‖. Later, it was shortened to ―Stepney‖.
These wheels consisted of ready inflated tyres which could temporarily be clamped over
a punctured wheel. Nowadays, of course, the word ―Stepney‖ is mostly heard in countries
like India, Bangladesh, etc, which were once part of the British Empire. These days,
native speakers of English use the word ―spare‖ instead of ―Stepney‖. The word
―Stepney‖ is unheard of in America.

―cyber coolies‖

This is how people in the West have started referring to people in developing nations. In
the old days, of course, we Indians were referred to as ―coolies‖ because we provided
cheap labour. Nowadays, we are being called ―cyber coolies‖.
Why? Because most software companies find it cheaper to get their job done in countries
like India and other developing nations. There are many people in the U. S. and Britain
who raise a hue and cry when jobs get exported to countries like India — especially jobs
related to call centres and the software industry.
The fact that they refer to us as coolies shows that they haven‘t lost their imperialist
outlook. There was a time when the sun never set on the British Empire. Now of course,
(you might say) the sun never rises in Britain. How times have changed! Britain is no
longer the power it used to be. For some, it is nothing more than the 51st State of the
United States!

How is the word ―brusque‖ pronounced?

The first ―u‖ sounds like the ―u‖ in ―cut‖, ―but‖, and ―hut‖. The final ―sque‖ sounds like
the ―sk‖ in ―mask‖, ―task‖, and ―flask‖.
When you are ―brusque‖ with someone, you are being very curt with the individual. You
are being impolite.
Here are a few examples. *Don‘t ever go to that particular hospital. The doctors there are
very brusque. *Sanjana tends to be brusque at times. But don‘t let that put you off.

―to throw in the towel‖

When you throw in the towel what you are doing is giving up. You are quitting because
you have decided that you can‘t take it any more.
Here are a few examples. *After running two miles of the marathon, Dilip decided to
throw in the towel. *It‘s been a real struggle for Jai, but he has refused to throw in the
towel. *If you think I am going to throw in the towel, you had better think again.
This is an expression that comes from the world of boxing. I understand that the trainers
of boxers always carried a towel with them. After every round, they used this towel to
wipe some of the sweat off the boxer. If during the fight they found that their boxer was
getting beaten up badly, then the trainers took the responsibility of calling off the fight.
In other words, they used to concede the fight. They did this by throwing the boxer‘s
towel into the ring. When the referee saw the towel being thrown in, he would
immediately stop the fight. It was not very often however that the trainer threw the towel
into the ring.

Is it OK to say, ―He is angry on me‖?

You can never be angry ―on‖ someone, you are usually angry ―with‖ someone.
Here are a few examples. *The young groom was angry with his wife for forgetting his
birthday. *You must learn to be tolerant. You can‘t be angry with him all the time.

―linguist‖ and a ―polyglot‖

I read somewhere that a linguist is someone who has mastered every tongue (language)
except his wife‘s! Actually, a linguist is someone who studies languages. He is usually
interested in understanding how a language works. He is keen on figuring out the rules of
the language, rather than in learning how to use the language.
A linguist may or may not have the ability to speak several languages. A polyglot, on the
other hand, has the ability to speak several languages. He may not be able to tell you
anything about the rules of the various languages he knows, but he will be able to use
them quite effortlessly in order to communicate.
A linguist, on the other hand, will be able to provide you with a great deal of information
about the rules of a language. There are many polyglots in India. A linguist can be a
polyglot, but a polyglot need not be a linguist.
―When you ask someone to bone up on something, what you are telling him to do is to
review something thoroughly in a very short period of time. Example, Sujatha told me
that she may be going to Paris next month. I told her to bone up on her French.‖ ―That‘s a
good idea. My aunt is planning to visit her grandchildren in England this summer. I have
told her to bone up on her English.‖

Irregardless

irregardless of what you may think of Surendran….‖ ―…. good grief. Irregardless! How I
hate that word!‖ ―The word exists, you know.‖ ―I know. The Americans use it. But even
they consider it to be non standard. So don‘t use the word.‖
―So what should I use then?‖ ―Stick to regardless.‖ ―Regardless of what you may think of
my friend…‖

Rip someone off

When you rip someone off, you cheat them. You take advantage of the person.
Example, ―Don‘t even think about going to that new five star hotel. They will just rip you
off.‖ * ―The old lady got ripped off by the cunning salesman.‖ *‖The last time I bought a
camera, I took Suresh with me just to make sure that I didn‘t get ripped off.‖

stand someone up

When you stand someone up, you don‘t keep an appointment that you have made with
the individual. In other words, you make a date and just not show up.
For example, Harish was supposed to go to the movie with Shyamala. But he stood her
up and went with Geetha instead. * I was supposed to meet Rajesh at the library last
night, but I stood him up.* I am really angry with Rahul. He‘s never stood me up before.

curmudgeon‖

The ―u‖ in the first syllable and the ―o‖ in the final syllable are like the ―a‖ in ―china‖;
the second syllable rhymes with ―judge‖, ―fudge‖ and ―grudge‖. The main stress, as you
have probably guessed by now, is on the second syllable. This is one way of pronouncing
the word. An old person with a bad temper is usually referred to as a curmudgeon. The
word can also be used to refer to individuals who get annoyed very easily. Some
dictionaries list the word as being old fashioned.
Here are a few examples. * My uncle is turning into a complaining old curmudgeon. *
Everyone heaved a sigh of relief when they heard that the curmudgeon wouldn‘t be
attending the meeting. * He is such a nice man. How dare you call him a curmudgeon!

―I will lend you the money right now‖ and ―I would ………‖

When someone tells you that he will lend you the money, you can begin to relax. You
can be quite sure that you will get the money you want. ―Will‖ in this case suggests that
the individual is quite certain that he is giving you the money; he is definite.
Here are a few examples. * I will look you up the next time I visit the city. * Don‘t panic,
I will marry you. * I will pick you up at noon.
The use of ―would‖, on the other hand, brings in an element of uncertainty. When
someone tells you that he would like to lend you the money, it implies that he wants to
lend you the money, but unfortunately, he is not in a position to. Native speakers
generally use ―would‘ as a polite way of saying no. If a boy tells a girl that he would
marry her, what he means is that he is not going to marry her. ―I would marry you‖ is an
incomplete sentence. It implies that you would marry the person if certain conditions
were met. For example, I would marry you if you had more money. But the fact is that
you don‘t have the money and therefore I am not going to marry you. In India many
people use ―would‖ when they mean, ―will‖. Remember ―would‖ is not the polite form of
―will‖ in all contexts. The use of ―would‖ introduces an element of uncertainty.

―rain on someone‘s parade‖

This is an expression mostly used in American English in informal contexts. When you
rain on someone‘s parade what you are doing is ruining his/her plans. You are spoiling
something for someone.
Here are a few examples. * Sorry to rain on your parade Laxmi, but your calculations are
all wrong. * By calling a meeting at five in the evening on a Friday, the boss really rained
on my parade. * You are sure it‘s OK if I come along? I don‘t want to rain on your
parade.

―make a silk purse out of a sow‘s ear‖

A ―sow‖, as you probably know, is a female pig. The word rhymes with ―how‖, ―now‖
and ―cow‖. Is it possible to make a silk purse out of a pig‘s ear? What do you think? The
expression ―make a silk purse out of sow‘s ear‖ is normally used to mean that it is
impossible to make something fine out of inferior or substandard material. The idiom is
normally used in the negative. It is also possible to say, ―turn a sow‘s ear into a silk
purse‖.
* No matter how hard you try, I am afraid you will not succeed in helping him get
through his Board exams. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow‘s ear. * I wouldn‘t
spend too much time and money trying to repair that old car. You can‘t turn a sow‘s ear
into a silk purse. * The Municipal authorities are planning to convert the old garbage
dump into a park. I guess that it‘s a case of making a sow‘s ear into a silk purse.

Fish or cut bait

When you tell someone to fish or cut bait, you are telling him to either do the job that he
is supposed to be doing or quit so that someone else can take over.
Example: ―Ever since my boss told him to fish or cut bait, Mahesh has been doing much
better on the job.‖*

―cold fish‖

When you say that someone is a cold fish, what you mean is that someone who is very
unfriendly.
But a cold fish could also be someone who doesn‘t show his emotions. For example,
many people believe that Anand is a cold fish.* There are lots of people who think that
you are a cold fish.‖* ―I know that many of my cousins think I am a cold fish.‖ ―Well, I
guess there is a cold fish in every family.‖

Pronounciation: ‖ environment‖

The first syllable is like the ―in‖ in ―pin‖, ―bin‖, and sin‖. The ―ir‖ is pronounced like the
―ire‖ in ―fire‖, ―tire‖, and ―dire‖. The following ―o‖ and ―e‖ are pronounced like the ―a‖
in ―china‖. The main stress is on the second syllable. This is one way of pronouncing the
word.

―bad hair day‖

There are days when no matter how hard you try, your hair never stays in place. This
upsets you and in general puts you in a bad mood throughout the day. Well, even if you
don‘t get upset, I am sure you know people who do worry about these things. The
expression ―bad hair day‖ is usually used in informal contexts to mean ―a bad day in
general‖. Most people consider it to be slang.
Here are a few examples. *I am sorry that I was so glum. But this has been a bad hair
day. *Poor Rahul, he‘s been having an awful time. It‘s been one bad hair day after
another. *What‘s wrong with you? Having a bad hair day?
The expression is mostly used in American English.

―muddle along‖ and ―muddle around‖


When you ―muddle along‖ you are making progress. But the progress is not smooth
because you are doing something without having a definite plan. Most of us just muddle
along in life. We don‘t really have a clear plan as to what we want to achieve in life.
When one doesn‘t have a clear plan, things can become pretty awkward.
Here are a few examples. *Until he got everything straightened out, he just muddled
along. *Jai just muddled along for several years without really making any progress.
*The project just muddled along till they appointed a new manager.
When you ―muddle around‖ you are working very inefficiently. You are probably
wasting a lot of time and energy doing other things, or doing nothing!
*I can‘t focus on anything today. I have just been muddling around. *The new boss is
pretty strict. He fires people who just muddle around. *Stop muddling around and get
some work done.

Is it ―hand in glove‖ or ―hand and glove‖?

The idiom is ―hand in glove‖. When you are hand in glove with someone you are closely
involved with that individual — usually in an illegal activity. The two of you are up to no
good. In British English, this expression has a very negative meaning.
Here are a few examples. *Some of the politicians were hand in glove with the militants.
*I wouldn‘t trust anything he says. He‘s hand in glove with the Management. *He
realised much later that his own partner was hand in glove with his competitors.
In American English, however, the expression does not always carry this negative
meaning with it. When you are hand in glove with someone, you are very close to
him/her.
Here are a few examples. *I am told that Hamsa is really hand in glove with Mohan.
*The teacher and the students worked hand in glove. *The two sisters were hand in
glove.
Now coming back to your question, this expression began to be used in the late 17th
Century. The interesting thing is that when it was first used, it was ―hand and glove‖, but
later changed to ―hand in glove‖.
The Hindu- ‗Know Your English‘ Series, December 08, 2003

Posted in Idioms | Leave a Comment »

Pronunciation: ―beat‖ as in ―The Australians beat out team quite easily‖.

Posted by Sunil Jose on January 19, 2009

It rhymes with ―meat‖, ―seat‖, and ―heat‖. Some people pronounce it like the word ―bet‖.
It is wrong to pronounce it this way.
―couple‖ as in ‖ a couple of days‖

Dictionaries define the word couple as ―two‖. So it can mean that you will be gone for
two days. But usually in everyday speech, the word ―couple‖ is used to mean ―a few‖. So
you could be gone for more than two days. When someone says that there were a couple
of shops open, it doesn‘t necessarily mean there were only two shops open. It could mean
that there were more than two shops open. The word is used to refer to an unspecified
number; the number is usually small.

―consensus of opinion‖

We hear the expression all the time, don‘t we? The consensus of opinion is this is the best
movie in town. The consensus of opinion is that the law should be passed without any
changes. We find such sentences in newspapers all the time. So, if you object to them,
then you are likely to be in the minority. Careful users of the language however object to
this expression. They argue that ―consensus‖ means general agreement, therefore there is
no need to add ―of opinion‖. You can simply say, ―The consensus is this is the best movie
in town‖.

―every day‖ and ―everyday‖

These are two words that are often confused by people. When used as two words, it
means daily.
Here are a few examples. * Why should I have a bath every day? * There‘s no need for
you to call him every day. * The children play tennis every day.
―Everyday‖, on the other hand, is normally used as an adjective. It is used to mean
common or ordinary.
Here are a few examples. * Traffic is an everyday problem in our city. * These are my
everyday clothes. * Sweeping, dusting, and mopping are part of her everyday routine.
Use ―everyday‖ before a noun.

―curmudgeon‖

The ―u‖ in the first syllable and the ―o‖ in the final syllable are like the ―a‖ in ―china‖;
the second syllable rhymes with ―judge‖, ―fudge‖ and ―grudge‖. The main stress, as you
have probably guessed by now, is on the second syllable. This is one way of pronouncing
the word. An old person with a bad temper is usually referred to as a curmudgeon. The
word can also be used to refer to individuals who get annoyed very easily. Some
dictionaries list the word as being old fashioned.
Here are a few examples. * My uncle is turning into a complaining old curmudgeon. *
Everyone heaved a sigh of relief when they heard that the curmudgeon wouldn‘t be
attending the meeting. * He is such a nice man. How dare you call him a curmudgeon!

―I will lend you the money right now‖ and ―I would ………‖

When someone tells you that he will lend you the money, you can begin to relax. You
can be quite sure that you will get the money you want. ―Will‖ in this case suggests that
the individual is quite certain that he is giving you the money; he is definite.
Here are a few examples. * I will look you up the next time I visit the city. * Don‘t panic,
I will marry you. * I will pick you up at noon.
The use of ―would‖, on the other hand, brings in an element of uncertainty. When
someone tells you that he would like to lend you the money, it implies that he wants to
lend you the money, but unfortunately, he is not in a position to. Native speakers
generally use ―would‘ as a polite way of saying no. If a boy tells a girl that he would
marry her, what he means is that he is not going to marry her. ―I would marry you‖ is an
incomplete sentence. It implies that you would marry the person if certain conditions
were met. For example, I would marry you if you had more money. But the fact is that
you don‘t have the money and therefore I am not going to marry you. In India many
people use ―would‖ when they mean, ―will‖. Remember ―would‖ is not the polite form of
―will‖ in all contexts. The use of ―would‖ introduces an element of uncertainty.

―rain on someone‘s parade‖

This is an expression mostly used in American English in informal contexts. When you
rain on someone‘s parade what you are doing is ruining his/her plans. You are spoiling
something for someone.
Here are a few examples. * Sorry to rain on your parade Laxmi, but your calculations are
all wrong. * By calling a meeting at five in the evening on a Friday, the boss really rained
on my parade. * You are sure it‘s OK if I come along? I don‘t want to rain on your
parade.

―make a silk purse out of a sow‘s ear‖

A ―sow‖, as you probably know, is a female pig. The word rhymes with ―how‖, ―now‖
and ―cow‖. Is it possible to make a silk purse out of a pig‘s ear? What do you think? The
expression ―make a silk purse out of sow‘s ear‖ is normally used to mean that it is
impossible to make something fine out of inferior or substandard material. The idiom is
normally used in the negative. It is also possible to say, ―turn a sow‘s ear into a silk
purse‖.
* No matter how hard you try, I am afraid you will not succeed in helping him get
through his Board exams. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow‘s ear. * I wouldn‘t
spend too much time and money trying to repair that old car. You can‘t turn a sow‘s ear
into a silk purse. * The Municipal authorities are planning to convert the old garbage
dump into a park. I guess that it‘s a case of making a sow‘s ear into a silk purse.

Fish or cut bait

When you tell someone to fish or cut bait, you are telling him to either do the job that he
is supposed to be doing or quit so that someone else can take over.
Example: ―Ever since my boss told him to fish or cut bait, Mahesh has been doing much
better on the job.‖*

―cold fish‖

When you say that someone is a cold fish, what you mean is that someone who is very
unfriendly.
But a cold fish could also be someone who doesn‘t show his emotions. For example,
many people believe that Anand is a cold fish.* There are lots of people who think that
you are a cold fish.‖* ―I know that many of my cousins think I am a cold fish.‖ ―Well, I
guess there is a cold fish in every family.‖

A big fish in a small pond.

When you say that someone is a big fish in a small pond, it means that the individual is
an important person in a very small place.
―I see. So what you mean is that in the small company that she is working for, Sujatha is
an important person. But outside it, she is a nobody.‖
―I guess you could say that.‖

Can a man be called a ―fish‖?

When you refer to a person as a `fish‘ what you mean is that he/she is stupid or very
clumsy.
Here is an example. ―My new assistant is a fish. He just can‘t do anything right.‖ *
―Don‘t be such a fish Jai. Anyone can learn to ride a bicycle.‖

Fish fights

A fight between two women is usually referred to as `fish fight‘. The expression is
considered slang.
―eve teasing‖

What do you normally find outside a girl‘s college? Boys, of course! A whole bunch of
boys making fun of the girls, and trying to get their attention. That‘s what eve teasing is;
members of the male species making fun of the opposite sex. The fun that these roadside
Romeos (or Adams?) indulge in isn‘t always innocent either. The expression ―eve
teasing‖ is Indian in origin; you won‘t find it in most dictionaries. Native speakers of
English don‘t use it. Since it is Indian, should we change the name ―Eve‖ to something
else?

Pronounciation: ‖ environment‖

The first syllable is like the ―in‖ in ―pin‖, ―bin‖, and sin‖. The ―ir‖ is pronounced like the
―ire‖ in ―fire‖, ―tire‖, and ―dire‖. The following ―o‖ and ―e‖ are pronounced like the ―a‖
in ―china‖. The main stress is on the second syllable. This is one way of pronouncing the
word.

―bad hair day‖

There are days when no matter how hard you try, your hair never stays in place. This
upsets you and in general puts you in a bad mood throughout the day. Well, even if you
don‘t get upset, I am sure you know people who do worry about these things. The
expression ―bad hair day‖ is usually used in informal contexts to mean ―a bad day in
general‖. Most people consider it to be slang.
Here are a few examples. *I am sorry that I was so glum. But this has been a bad hair
day. *Poor Rahul, he‘s been having an awful time. It‘s been one bad hair day after
another. *What‘s wrong with you? Having a bad hair day?
The expression is mostly used in American English.

―muddle along‖ and ―muddle around‖

When you ―muddle along‖ you are making progress. But the progress is not smooth
because you are doing something without having a definite plan. Most of us just muddle
along in life. We don‘t really have a clear plan as to what we want to achieve in life.
When one doesn‘t have a clear plan, things can become pretty awkward.
Here are a few examples. *Until he got everything straightened out, he just muddled
along. *Jai just muddled along for several years without really making any progress.
*The project just muddled along till they appointed a new manager.
When you ―muddle around‖ you are working very inefficiently. You are probably
wasting a lot of time and energy doing other things, or doing nothing!
*I can‘t focus on anything today. I have just been muddling around. *The new boss is
pretty strict. He fires people who just muddle around. *Stop muddling around and get
some work done.

Is it ―hand in glove‖ or ―hand and glove‖?

The idiom is ―hand in glove‖. When you are hand in glove with someone you are closely
involved with that individual — usually in an illegal activity. The two of you are up to no
good. In British English, this expression has a very negative meaning.
Here are a few examples. *Some of the politicians were hand in glove with the militants.
*I wouldn‘t trust anything he says. He‘s hand in glove with the Management. *He
realised much later that his own partner was hand in glove with his competitors.
In American English, however, the expression does not always carry this negative
meaning with it. When you are hand in glove with someone, you are very close to
him/her.
Here are a few examples. *I am told that Hamsa is really hand in glove with Mohan.
*The teacher and the students worked hand in glove. *The two sisters were hand in
glove.
Now coming back to your question, this expression began to be used in the late 17th
Century. The interesting thing is that when it was first used, it was ―hand and glove‖, but
later changed to ―hand in glove‖.

Pronunciation: ―beat‖ as in ―The Australians beat out team quite easily‖.

Posted by Sunil Jose on January 19, 2009

It rhymes with ―meat‖, ―seat‖, and ―heat‖. Some people pronounce it like the word ―bet‖.
It is wrong to pronounce it this way.

―couple‖ as in ‖ a couple of days‖

Dictionaries define the word couple as ―two‖. So it can mean that you will be gone for
two days. But usually in everyday speech, the word ―couple‖ is used to mean ―a few‖. So
you could be gone for more than two days. When someone says that there were a couple
of shops open, it doesn‘t necessarily mean there were only two shops open. It could mean
that there were more than two shops open. The word is used to refer to an unspecified
number; the number is usually small.

―consensus of opinion‖

We hear the expression all the time, don‘t we? The consensus of opinion is this is the best
movie in town. The consensus of opinion is that the law should be passed without any
changes. We find such sentences in newspapers all the time. So, if you object to them,
then you are likely to be in the minority. Careful users of the language however object to
this expression. They argue that ―consensus‖ means general agreement, therefore there is
no need to add ―of opinion‖. You can simply say, ―The consensus is this is the best movie
in town‖.

―every day‖ and ―everyday‖

These are two words that are often confused by people. When used as two words, it
means daily.
Here are a few examples. * Why should I have a bath every day? * There‘s no need for
you to call him every day. * The children play tennis every day.
―Everyday‖, on the other hand, is normally used as an adjective. It is used to mean
common or ordinary.
Here are a few examples. * Traffic is an everyday problem in our city. * These are my
everyday clothes. * Sweeping, dusting, and mopping are part of her everyday routine.
Use ―everyday‖ before a noun.

―apple of discord‖

When you say that something is the ―apple of discord‖ what you mean is that it is the
cause of dispute. It‘s surprising how much trouble the apple has caused. Eating the
forbidden fruit resulted in Adam and Eve being thrown out of Eden. A fight over an apple
resulted in the fall of Troy.
According to the legend, when Thetis and Peleus got married, they invited all the Greek
gods, except the god of Discord, Eris, to their wedding. Makes sense, doesn‘t it? Nobody
wants a disagreement or a quarrel during a wedding. After the wedding, well that‘s a
different matter. Anyway, Eris was pretty angry that she hadn‘t been invited to the
wedding. So, what she did was to toss a golden apple among the guests. On the apple
were written the words, ―For the fairest‖.
Three goddesses, Hera, Athene, and Aphrodite fought for the apple because each
believed that she was the fairest of them all. Since they didn‘t have a magic mirror, which
could tell them who among them was the fairest, the three goddesses asked Paris, the son
of the king of Troy, to decide the matter for them. And as it usually happens in such
cases, the goddesses tried to bribe Paris; Hera promised him all of Asia, and Athene
promised him glory in war.
And guess what Aphrodite offered him if he were to give her the apple? You guessed it.
She promised him the most beautiful woman in the world; a woman whose face was
capable of launching a thousand ships. Young Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite, and he
got the beautiful Helen in return. Hera and Athene, as expected, were extremely angry
with Paris and they plotted his ruin.
According to the legend it was the two goddesses that made sure that Troy was destroyed.
Thousands of people were killed because of a silly apple!

―cuckoo‖

―Cuckoo‖ means crazy.


The first syllable is pronounced like the word `cook‘ and the `oo‘ in the second is like the
`oo‘ in `fool‘, `cool‘, and `pool‘. The stress is on the first syllable.
Examples: ―How did I ever become friends with a cuckoo like you‖ *‖Our company has
come up with a new scheme to increase sales. If you ask me, it‘s plain cuckoo.‖

―get-go‖

It‘s an expression frequently used in American English. When you say that I have been
here from the get-go, it means that you have been there from the beginning. In other
words, you have been there from day one.
Example: ―I don‘t understand how she got the promotion. The job should have gone to
Laxman. He has been with the company since the get-go‖. * ―‖Listen, you must show
them who the boss is from the get-go‖. * ―Pretty good. The students had all the answers
figured out from the get-go.‖ * ―I have been part of the team from the get-go. So I should
be made the captain.‖

Syrupy

When you say that something is syrupy what you mean is that it is overly sentimental. In
other words, dripping with sentiment. Just like a syrup.
Example, ―I hate songs with syrupy lyrics.‖ * ―My cousin loves to read syrupy tales of
romance.‖
Syrupy can also be used to mean insincere.
Example, ―whenever I run into her, she gives me a syrupy smile. How * ―I don‘t like it
when Harish becomes syrupy.‖

―Saccharine‖

The first syllable is pronounced like the word `sack‘. The `a‘ in the second syllable is like
the `a‘ in `china‘. Some people rhymes the final syllable with `seen‘, `teen‘, and `keen‘.
Some others make it rhyme with `fine‘, `pine‘ and `dine‘. The main stress is on the first
syllable. Do you know what saccharine means?‖
When you say that something is `saccharine‘ what you mean is that it is very sweet. The
word is used disapprovingly.
Here‘s an example. Everyone in my office just loves Dilip. I find his behaviour very
saccharine. The word also refers to an artificial sweetener — so it means the behaviour is
artificially sweet.
―When I walked into her office, she gave me a saccharine smile.‖ *

the whole nine yards‖

―The whole nine yards‖ is an informal expression mostly used in American English. It is
used to mean ―the entire amount, everything‖.
Here are a few examples. *For the sake of his daughter, Shyam was willing to go the
whole nine yards. *Help Kalyan with the assignment! He isn‘t worth the whole nine
yards. *What do I want? Give me the whole nine yards.
There are several theories as to the origin of this expression. According to some people, it
comes from the world of tailoring — it‘s the amount of material required to make a
decent suit. Some others believe that the expression comes from the construction
business. I understand that in the United States, sand and cement are sold by the yard.
Apparently the maximum capacity of a standard cement mixer truck is nine cubic yards.
So when you ask for the whole nine yards, you want as much as the truck can carry.

―purposely‖ and ―purposefully‖

When you do something ―purposely‖, you do it deliberately. You do it on purpose.


Here are a few examples. *The child purposely spilled coffee on the new carpet. *Prasad
purposely left the windows open. *At the meeting, the chairman purposely made certain
provocative statements.
When you do something ―purposefully‖ you do it with a clear aim or purpose.
*The angry principal walked purposefully into the lounge. *Tendulkar strode
purposefully to the crease and took guard. *The aging hero walked purposefully across
the street and into the bar.

What is a collector of matchbox labels called?

There are several words to describe such an individual, but one of the common ones
seems to be ―phillumenist‖. The first syllable rhymes with ―pill‖, ―fill‖, and ―chill‖. The
―u‖ in the second syllable is like the ―oo‖ in ―fool‖, ―cool‖, and ―pool‖, while the
following vowel is like the ―a‖ in ―china‖. The main stress is on the second syllable.
―Phil‖ is from Greek ―philos‖ meaning ―lover‖ and ―lumen‖ is from Latin ―lumen‖
meaning ―light‖.

Is it okay to say, ―Both Dravid and Tendulkar are not batting well‖?
You could possibly get away with it in speech, but careful users of the language would
frown on it. You don‘t usually use a negative with ―both‖.
Here are a few examples. *Neither Dravid nor Tendulkar is batting well. *Neither of you
is being sent to Mumbai. *Neither Uma nor Usha turned up for the meeting. *Both Uma
and Usha turned up for the meeting. *Both students are going to Mumbai.

―oodles‖

This is a word that is mostly used in informal contexts. When you have oodles of
something, you have lots of it. By the way, the word rhymes with ―noodles‖.
Here are a few examples. *I wish I had oodles and oodles of money. *Whenever he gets
tense, he drinks oodles of coffee. *I love to have oodles of sauce on my noodles.

―debut‖

The first syllable ―de‖ sounds like ―day‖ and the second syllable is like the ―beau‖ in
―beautiful‖. The stress can be either on the first or the second syllable. Take your pick.
*Ramani‘s debut album will be released next week. *He made his debut at the ripe old
age of 62. *Shashi is making her debut tonight.

―Lowbrow‖ / ―middlebrow‖ / ―highbrow‖

―Well, what kind of a person is Sujatha?‖


―She is very intelligent. I guess you could call her an intellectual. She….‖
―…. at least, she thinks she is an intellectual. Pretends to be one anyway. What sort of
person are you?‖
―Well, I am not very bright. I am not very fond of intellectuals. I guess you could say that
I am not very refined. Furthermore, I,…..‖
―…all those things make you a lowbrow.‖
―O.K, I think I understand. I feel ill at ease in the company of highbrows. You could say
that I am allergic to them.‖
―Geetha used to be a highbrow, but she has given up some of her fancy ways.‖
―Some of the highbrows in my class meet every Sunday to discuss poststructuralism and
…..‖
―…..don‘t want to know.‖
―O.K. Tell me, is there a middlebrow?‖
―Yes, there is. Someone who is a middlebrow is average.‖
―In other words, mediocre?‖
―That‘s right. People like you and me are middlebrows.‖

Johnny come lately‖

When you refer to someone as a Johnny come lately what you mean is that he/she is a
newcomer.
―We don‘t pay any attention to Laxman. He is a Johnny come lately and doesn‘t know
what he is talking about.‖
―Another expression which means the same thing is ‗new kid on the block‘.‖
―I have been going to the same restaurant for ten years. Why should I listen to some new
kid on the block?‖ * ―I have been with my company for fifteen years. But my boss still
thinks of me as the new kid on the block.‖

Rapport

The `a‘ in the first syllable is pronounced like the `a‘ in `cat‘, `bat‘, and `sat‘. The `or‘ in
the second syllable is like the `or‘ in `pore‘, `sore‘, and `bore‘. The final `t‘ is silent.
―The stress Is on the second syllable.
When you have a good rapport with someone, you have a good relationship with him or
her. You understand the individual very well.* ―Lots of people find it strange that I have
an excellent rapport with Bala.‖ * ―My physics teacher has an excellent rapport with all
his students.‖ * ―I wish my boss had a good rapport with the new accountant.‖

fall down or fall off (the chair) ?

You don‘t usually fall down from a chair. Careful users of the language would say `fall
off the chair‘.
―I used to fall off my bicycle very often.‖ * ―The rider fell off the horse and broke his
foot.‖ * ―Before I fall off this wobbly chair, I‘d better get home. I am expecting a phone
call.‖

Come in out of the rain

―Tell me. Did Ramesh turn up or not?‖


―No, he apparently forgot.‖
―Well, that‘s not surprising.‖
―What do you mean?‖
―All that I am saying is that you can‘t expect much from Ramesh. He doesn‘t know
enough to come in out of the rain.‖
―What does that mean?‖
―Well, if it is raining outside, and the individual doesn‘t know that he has to come in,
what would you think of the person?‖
―Well, I would say that he is pretty stupid.‖
―And that‘s what the expression means.‖
―I see. Can I say Harish is so stupid that he doesn‘t know enough to come in out of the
rain?‖
―Yes, you can. Here‘s another example. Everyone told me that Naresh was smart. After
talking to him for five minutes I realised that he didn‘t know enough to come in out of the
rain.‖

‗describe‘ or describe about‘?

You cannot say `describe about‘. You describe something.


―The teacher has asked us to describe the bookshop.‖ * ―Rajesh described the house in
great detail. * ―The young child described the robber.‖

‗Await‘ or ‗await for‘?

Await is not usually followed by for. You await someone or something. You can say,
`wait for‘, but not `await for‘. Await means `wait for‘.
For example, the players are anxiously awaiting the decision of the coach.‖ * ―this
example? The man is awaiting trial.‖
Await is considered formal.

―In the crossfire‖

It means the same thing as `get caught in the middle‘.


―My uncle and aunt were having an argument and unfortunately my sister got caught in
the crossfire.‖ * ―When my sister and her friend have an argument, they try to draw me
into it. But I always make sure that I don‘t get caught in the middle.‖ * ―Whenever I
sense that people are going to have an argument, I try to get out of the room. I just hate
getting caught in the crossfire.‖

―make the fur ( feathers) fly‖


When you say that someone makes the fur fly, what you mean is that the person causes
many fights or arguments.
Examples: ―my neighbours hate each other. Whenever they run into each other, they
make the fur fly.‖ * ―When I was a kid, I spilled ink all over my father‘s office papers.
When he saw that, he made the fur fly‖.
It is also possible to say, `to make the feathers fly‘. For example, when some of my
friends get together, they really make the feathers fly.

Look like (feel like) Death warmed over (up)

When you tell someone that he looks like death warmed over, what you mean is that that
the individual looks very tired or ill.
Examples: ―when I saw Deepa in the hospital last week she looked like death warmed
over.‖
You could also say that she looked like death warmed up. The British say `warmed up‘,
while the Americans say, `warmed over‘. It is also possible to say `to feel like death
warmed over‘.‖
Examples: ―After going on a twenty mile trek, I felt like death warmed up.‖* ―When
Anuradha came to office this morning, she looked like death warmed over. So my boss
told her to take the next couple of days off.‖

Wimp out

When you wimp out of doing something, you get out of it. You leave it for others to do
it.‖
Examples: ―Rajeev is a totally unreliable person. When the work builds up, he invariably
wimps out‖. * ―You promised that you would help us get the job done by Friday. You
can‘t wimp out on us now.‖

Which of the following is correct ―He feels ill‖ or ―He feels sick‖? Can I say, ―He is
an ill person‖?

As for the first question, both are correct. When you say that someone is ―ill‖ what you
mean is that he is unwell. When you say he is sick, what you are implying is that the
individual feels like throwing up or vomiting.
Careful users of the language would argue that it is wrong to say, ―He is an ill person‖ —
although it is heard quite often in speech. ―Sick‖ is normally used before a noun.
For example, * Could you please keep quiet? We have a sick man in here. * Radha is
being trained to look after sick children. * The sick student finally went to the doctor.
The word ―ill‖, on the other hand, is normally used after a verb.
* The boy was ill and couldn‘t attend the meeting. * He was too ill to go to school. * I
told my wife that I felt ill.

Where should the numerals come? Before or after B.C. and A.D.?

B.C. and A.D. are usually put after the date. For example, according to some people
Julius Caesar died on 15 March 44 B.C.

―bigwig‖

Someone who holds an important or a powerful position is usually called a ―bigwig‖.


For example, * We have invited a few of the bigwigs over for dinner. * Some of the
bigwigs from the local party are coming for the inauguration of the hospital. * The
bigwigs refused to meet him.
Important people are called ―bigwigs‖ because there was a time when these people wore
big wigs! Makes sense, doesn‘t it? As you probably know, several centuries ago, wearing
wigs was a fashion. All men, whether they were bald or not, wore wigs. The richer you
were, the more wigs you had. France‘s Louis XIV started the practice of wearing really
long and tall wigs, and soon all of Europe‘s royalty began to copy him. In England, the
length of the wig that a man wore depended on his importance — or his perceived
importance. The more important you were, the longer and bigger the wig. Soon a lot of
people began to wear these full-length wigs. As a result, they had to pass a law declaring
that only nobility, judges, and bishops could wear full-length wigs — they became the
―big wigs‖.

―read between the lines‖

When someone says something and you ―read between the lines‖ what you are doing is
inferring. The expression does not always have to refer to written or printed material.
Here are a few examples. * Radha is still green. She believes everything she hears. She
still hasn‘t learnt to read between the lines. * If you read between the lines, you‘ll see that
he is saying that he doesn‘t plan to get married any time soon. * If you want to survive in
this company, you must learn to read between the lines.
People have come up with several theories as to the possible origin of this expression.
Some believe that it arose from the practice of using invisible ink to include secret
messages in letters. What people used to do was to write a normal letter using ordinary
ink. They would then write the secret message using invisible ink in the space between
the lines of the letter. In order the get the message, the receiver had to read between the
lines.

―Flotsam and jetsam‖


This was originally an expression used by sailors. Flotsam refers to the floating wreckage
of a ship and its cargo. Jetsam, on the other hand, refers to cargo deliberately thrown
overboard in order to lighten a ship during an emergency. When you use this expression
to talk about people, what you mean is that as far as you are concerned they are useless
and unimportant. The expression is normally used to refer to people without homes and
jobs.
Here are a few examples. *The beggar was sharing the pavement with various other
human flotsam and jetsam. *Laxman‘s mind is burdened with the flotsam and jetsam of
many years of bad instruction.

―euthanasia‖

The ―euth‖ is pronounced like the word ―youth‖, while the ―a‖ in the second and fourth
syllable sound like the ―a‖ in ―China‖. The second ―a‖ sounds like the ―ay‖ in ―say‖,
―way‖, and ―pay‖, while the ―s‖ is like the ―s‖ in ―measure‖, ―treasure‖, and ―pleasure‖.
The main stress is on the third syllable ―na‖. This is one of the ways of pronouncing the
word.
The practice of killing someone who is very ill without causing the individual any pain is
called euthanasia. It is usually done in order to reduce the suffering of an individual or an
animal. The term that is normally used is ―mercy killing‖. When the sick person requests
to be killed, it is called ―voluntary euthanasia‖.
Here are a few examples. * Many people think that people should have the right to
euthanasia.* My pet dog was in bad shape, and the vet suggested euthanasia.

―Sisyphean‖

King Sisyphus who ruled over his kingdom in Cornith wasn‘t a very good king. He
treated his subjects badly and as punishment, he was sent to Hades (the land of the dead)
where he was condemned to push a huge rock up a steep hill. Every time poor Sisyphus
managed to get it to the top, the rock rolled down and he had to repeat the task. Two
positive things came out of this futile exercise: 1) The workout helped Sisyphus build
some serious muscles, and 2) The rock gathered no moss! You know what they say, a
rolling stone gathers no moss!
Anyway, when you refer to a task as being ―Sisyphean‖, what you are implying is that
you are involved in endless and meaningless labour. The ―i‖ in the first syllable and the
―y‖ in the second are pronounced like the ―i‖ in ―pit‖, ―bit‖, and ―sit‖. The ―ph‖ sounds
like the ―f‖ in ―fine‖, ―feet‖, and ―fair‖; and the following vowel is like the ―ee‖ in ―fee‖,
―bee‖, and ―key‖. The final ―a‖ is like the ―a‖ in ―China‖. The main stress is on the third
syllable ―phe‖. This is one way of pronouncing the word.

earmark‖ and ―hallmark‖


A ―hallmark‖ was originally an official mark put on objects made out of gold and silver.
This was done to certify the purity of the metal, and also as to when and where the object
was made. The word is being used these days to refer to a typical feature of a thing or
person.
Here are a few examples. *Kalyan treated us with an indifference that has become his
hallmark. *Religious tolerance is the hallmark of a democracy. *The bombing bore all
the hallmarks of a terrorist attack.
When you earmark something for a particular purpose, you have decided that it will be
used for that particular purpose.
*The government has earmarked some funds for the anti-drug programmes. *You cannot
touch those funds. They have been earmarked for the school library. *Vinita says that her
school has been earmarked for closure.

When you call a shop and want to know if it is open can you say, ―Are you open‖?

I suppose you could, but the fact that someone has answered the phone suggests that they
are open, doesn‘t it? You could try one of the following.
*How long are you open today? *What are your working hours? *How late are you open
today?

―kudos‖

The ―ku‖ in the first syllable is pronounced like the word ―cue‖, and the following ―o‖ is
like the ―o‖ in ―hot‖, ―got‖, and ―dot‖. The main stress is on the first syllable.
When you receive ―kudos‖ from someone for having done something, you receive his
admiration and respect. The word is usually followed by a singular verb.
Here are a few examples. *Radha received kudos for coming first in the race.
*Unfortunately the author didn‘t receive the kudos that was her due. *Kudos is the last
the thing I expect to get from my friends.

What is the meaning and origin of the word ``laconic"?

If you want to know the meaning of the word ``laconic" all you have to do is to recall
those old Amitabh Bachchan movies where he played the role of the angry young man.
Remember movies like Deewar, Zanjeer, Sholay and Trishul? In these movies Amitabh
hardly spoke; he was laconic. Whenever the heroine or villain spoke at length about
something, Amitabh's usual response was a one liner. The word ``laconic" is usually used
to refer to a person who speaks very few words. He is usually blunt and brief in what he
has to say. We have at some time or the other met such a person in our life. Here are a
few examples.
*The scientist's laconic replies were driving the reporter up the wall.

*A laconic politician! That is an oxymoron.

*Das' laconic speech left everyone wondering if something was wrong.

The word comes from the name of a place in Greece - ``Laconia". The Spartans who
lived in this region were known for their ability to ration their words. (An ability, which I
wish all our politicians, would acquire!) Whatever they said, it was to the point. The story
goes that Philip of Macedon sent a message of warning to the Laconians. The message
was: ``If I enter Laconia with my army, I shall raze Sparta to the ground. I will destroy
it." The Laconians' terse response to this threat was ``If"!

Finally, a word about the pronunciation of ``laconic". The ``a" in the first syllable is like
the ``a" in ``China", ``about", and ``announce". The following ``o" sounds like the ``o" in
``cot", ``pot", and ``hot". You can probably figure out how the final syllable is
pronounced. The main stress, by the way, is on the second syllable.

Is there a word for someone who fears thunder and thunderstorms? (V. Shyamala,
Bangalore)

Many of us as children were afraid of thunder and thunderstorms. So it would be rather


surprising if the English language didn't have a word to refer to someone who is scared of
thunder and thunderstorms. The Greek word for thunder is ``bronto". We all know what
``phobia" is. So the fear of thunder and thunderstorms is ``brontophobia". A person who
suffers from this phobia is a ``brontophobe". Here are a few examples.

*Bala had to share a room with a brontophobe during a thunderstorm.

*I am told that Prakasham suffers from brontophobia.

*I wouldn't take Meera out on a night like this. She is brontophobic.

These words however are not used very often.

What is the difference between a ``robber" and a ``thief"? (Giri, Kurnool)

A thief is someone who takes things from you without your being aware of it. A
pickpocket, for example, is a thief. He comes up behind you and takes away your wallet
without your knowledge. A thief doesn't threaten you with a gun or a knife. In fact, in
most cases, you are hardly aware of his presence.

In the case of a robber, on the other hand, you are aware of his presence. You usually
come face to face with him. A robber takes things from you by threatening you; he may
have a gun or a knife. In the case of a robbery, you are aware of the fact that things are
being taken from you. People who force you to part with your belongings are robbers;
those who take it away from you without your knowledge are thieves.

What is the meaning of the expression ``talk through one's hat"? (N. Subramanian,
Chennai)

This is what our politicians do most of the time. And what is it that our elected officials
are famous for? They have the tendency to give lengthy speeches/talks on subjects that
they know nothing about. So when you ``talk through your hat" what you are actually
doing is talking about something as if you know a lot about it, when in fact you know
nothing about it. When you talk through your hat, you talk nonsense. Here are a few
examples.

*Our not so beloved Professor was as usual talking through his hat.

*Jayashree was talking through her hat. She doesn't know anything about chemistry.

*Stop talking through your hat Sunila!

This expression is considered to be rather old fashioned. Another expression, which has
the same meaning, is ``talk through the back of one's head". Here are a few examples.

*Sidhu talks through the back of his head most of the time.

*Pooja as usual was talking through the back of her head.

Can the first Principal of a college be called the ``founder Principal" - though he is not
the one who founded the college? (Dr. C. Venkatramaiah, Tirupati)The word ``founder"
is normally used with people who have established a business, school, college, etc. In
your example, the Principal did not establish the college; he was merely appointed its
first Principal. Perhaps the ``founder" appointed him Principal! You can refer to the
individual as the ``first Principal" and not the ``founder Principal".

What is the meaning of ``bimonthly" (S. Gopalan, Coimbatore)?

The word ``bimonthly" can mean different things. A magazine or journal that is
published once in two months can be called a ``bimonthly". The word can also be used to
refer to a magazine that comes out twice a month. So when someone refers to a magazine
as being a bimonthly, find out from him whether it is twice a month or once in two
months. A magazine that comes out once in four months is called a ``quarterly". A
``fortnightly" is one that is published once in two weeks.

***

``Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for
example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer." - Dave Barry
Know your English

"HOW WAS your trip to Madras? Was your sister happy to see you?''

"I don't know if she was happy to see me or not. But she was definitely happy to note that
my water bottle was full."

"Your water bottle! What was so great about...''

"...there's an acute water shortage in Chennai. Things are really bad. If you were to walk
into a stranger's house with a couple of bottles of water, he would welcome you with
open arms!"

"It's that bad, eh? It's nice to know that your sister was happy to see your water bottle at
least. Did you inform that you were planning to take up a job in Bombay?""No, I didn't.
Besides, I haven't really decided whether..."

"...you should have informed that you were...."

"....informed her."

"What?"

"You should have informed her. You cannot say 'You should inform' or 'She informed'.
You don't merely 'inform', you 'inform someone' of something. You have to let the
listener know who that someone is. Here is an example. I informed Bala that there would
be a meeting tomorrow."

"Would it be wrong to say 'I informed that there would be a meeting tomorrow'?"

"Yes, it would."

"I see. Then how about this example? The Principal informed some of the students that
there would be no school tomorrow."

"Wishful thinking on your part. But the example is fine. The Manager informed Madhuri
that he was taking the rest of the day off."

"The teacher informed me that I had done fairly well in the test. How does that sound?"

"Sounds great! I must say that you cotton on fast."

"I `cotton on' fast. What's that supposed to mean?"


"Why don't you try and guess the meaning?"

"Well, let me see. I gave you an example and then you said that it was right. And
then....Does cotton on mean that I understand things quickly?"

"Well done. When you `cotton on' to something, you begin to understand it or realise it."

"Is it an expression that is used often?"

"It is an expression used by native speakers of English in informal contexts."

"I see. How about this example then? At long last Harish cottoned on to the fact that
Chitra wasn't interested in him at all."

"That's a pretty good example. Most of the students cottoned on to what the teacher was
trying to say."

"That never happens in my case. Especially when it comes to Physics. Whenever my


Physics teacher says something, it takes me at least half an hour to cotton on to what it is
she is saying."

"That's because you don't cotton to physics like some of your other classmates."

"Cotton to? You mean cotton on to, don't you?"

"No, I mean `cotton to'. Here is an example. Jaya doesn't cotton to Karunanidhi."

"That example makes everything clear. Everyone knows that the two can't stand each
other. So does `cotton to' mean to like someone."

"Very good. When you `cotton to' someone or something, you like the person or thing.
Here's another example."

"Wait, wait! Let me come up with one. At the meeting the Manager came up with an
excellent idea. Unfortunately, the Chairman didn't cotton to the idea."

"The heroine of the film didn't cotton to all the attention that the new hero was getting."

"It's not at all surprising that Namratha and Krishna didn't cotton to each other."

"That's a pretty good example. Now then, how about..."

"....by the way, how is your friend Namratha doing? Last I heard she was trying to find a
job. Has she found one?"
"Didn't I tell you about Namratha? She won the lottery about six months ago. And since
then she has been in tall cotton."

"Not cotton again."

"You don't cotton to expressions with the word cotton, do you? Anyway, any idea what
'in tall cotton' means?"

"Not a clue."

"When you say that someone is in `tall cotton' it means that he or she has life made. The
person is fairly successful and has absolutely no problems with money."

"I wish I were living in tall cotton."

"Who doesn't? The two Ministers were in tall cotton till the CBI figured out what it was
that they were doing."

"Can I say the two Ministers were in tall cotton till the CBI cottoned on to what they
were doing?"

"You certainly can."

"How about this example? Twenty years from now I hope to be in tall cotton."

"Sounds good to me. By the way, the expression 'in tall cotton' is considered to be slang.
So it should be used only in informal contexts."

"I'll try and remember that!"

"Hey, where are you off to?"

"Nagu's brother is leaving for Chennai tomorrow. Apparently he and his mother in law
just don't get along."

"So how are you going to solve their problem?"

"Simple. I am going to ask him to carry about ten bottles of water."

"You have just given me an idea. I think you and I can become rich by selling water to
our relatives in Chennai!"

"We'll be in tall cotton then."

"I told my wife that a husband is like a fine wine; he gets better with age. The next day,
she locked me in the cellar." - Anonymous

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