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“You look really busy. I’ll come back later.”

“No, no! Come on in! I could really use a break.”

“Are all these files related to the project that you and your boss are working on?”

“That’s right! But these are just half the files. My boss is going through the other half.”

“It must be nice to have a boss who works as hard as you do.”

“Do you seriously think he is going to read the files? No chance. He’ll probably get one of his lapdogs to do it.”

“Lapdog? What are you talking about?”

“A lapdog is usually a weak individual who does whatever someone tells him to.”

“I see. Since this individual is always under the control of someone else, I guess ‘lapdog’ is normally used to show disapproval.”

“That’s right! The word can be used with organisations as well. For example, the local news channel is nothing more than the Government’s lapdog.”

“Most people think that our coach is the captain’s lapdog.”

“That’s a good example. In 2003, people accused Tony Blair of being George Bush’s lapdog.”

“I remember that. Quite a few politicians put up a statement saying …”

“You generally don’t ‘put up’ a statement. One usually ‘puts out’ a statement.”

“But is it correct to say ‘put out a statement’?”

“It certainly is. When you put out a statement, you issue a statement to the media. They, in turn, make the information available to the public. For example, the accused put out a statement denying that he had done anything wrong.”

“We are waiting to hear from the Leader of the Opposition. She should be putting out a statement soon.”

“Why are your pants so dirty?”

“Oh that! My friends and I went to the park, and we sat in the grass.”

“You sat ‘in’ the grass or ‘on’ the grass?”

“Is it wrong to say in the grass?”

“No, no! In terms of grammar, it is possible to say ‘in’ and ‘on’ the grass. But there is a difference in meaning.”

“Really? What is the difference?”

“In the grass suggests that the grass was pretty high or tall. So when you sit down in such grass, others cannot see you. You remain hidden.”

“Tigers and lions hide in the grass to catch prey.”

“That’s right! Sitting on the grass suggests that the grass was not tall at all. Usually in parks and gardens, we sit on the grass.”

“The grass in the park that we went to had been mown recently. So, we sat on the grass and watched the ducks swim by.”

“I understand there are quite a few ducks this year.”

“Yes, there are more number of ducks this year than last year.”

“You don’t need to say ‘more number of’. It sounds clumsy. ‘More’ will do. For example, there were more people at the concert this year than last year.”

“More students are deciding to specialise in English.”

“I wish more politicians would choose to be honest.”

“Then they wouldn’t be politicians, would they?”


“Journalists should be watchdogs, not lapdogs.”Newton Lee

What is the difference between ‘impersonate’ and ‘mimic’?

(Smarti Sarang, Lucknow)

Both words can be used to mean to imitate, but ‘impersonate’ is considered to be the formal of the two. When you mimic or impersonate someone, you are attempting to copy the mannerisms of the individual; for example, you may attempt to talk like the person does, walk the way he does, etc. Usually, when you mimic someone, your aim is to make people laugh.

Unlike ‘mimic’, the word ‘impersonate’ can have a negative connotation. It can suggest that you are doing something illegal; when you impersonate someone, you are committing fraud. You are pretending to be someone that you are not.

*The students laughed when the teacher mimicked the Principal.

*Pradeep was arrested for impersonating a police officer.

How is the word ‘ephemera’ pronounced?

(E Raju, Vadapalani)

The ‘eph’ is pronounced like the word ‘if’, and the following ‘e’ sounds like the ‘e’ in ‘set’, ‘bet’ and ‘get’. The final two vowels are pronounced like the ‘a’ in ‘china’. One way of pronouncing the word is ‘i-FEM-e-re’ with the stress on the second syllable. Some people pronounce it ‘i-FEM-re’. It comes from the Greek ‘ephemeros’ meaning ‘lasting only a day’. The word is used to refer to things that live or can be used for a very short period of time; objects which do not have lasting value. Printed materials like tickets, handbills, labels, etc. are all examples of ephemera.

Is it okay to say ‘She is my would-be wife’?

(K Madhusudhan, Nellore)

The expression ‘my would-be wife’ is frequently used in India to refer to the woman whom you are going to marry; she is your fiancée, someone you are engaged to.

The Collins Cobuild dictionary maintains that this use of ‘would-be’ is an Indianism. A native speaker would refer to the woman he is engaged to as ‘my wife to be’ and not ‘would be wife’.

*I’d like to introduce you to my wife to be — Devayani.

What is the meaning and origin of ‘steal someone’s thunder’?

(J. Verghese, Coimbatore)

When you steal someone’s thunder, you take credit for something that someone else has done, and in the process prevent this individual from getting the public recognition that is due to him/her. You achieve this by doing or saying something that the other person had planned to. By doing this, you become the centre of attention, while the person who did the actual work fades into the background.

*If you try to steal my thunder, I’ll have you fired.

A third-rate playwright named John Dennis invented a machine which produced the sound of thunder. Unfortunately for the dramatist, the play he had written flopped; so, not many people had the opportunity to listen to the sound of thunder produced by his machine.

A few weeks later, when Dennis went to see Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, he found that the production company was using his invention to produce the sound of thunder. Dennis apparently became so angry that he shouted, “Damn them! … They will not let my play run, but they steal my thunder!”


“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”Nora Ephron




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