Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Word of the Week: petrichor

The summer has been harsh, as usual, and the northern part of India is looking forward to the arrival of the first monsoon rain (the southern region having been baptised already) to deliver us from the murderous heat and drought.

And when the first rain falls on dry earth there arises that familiar, pleasant smell which everyone loves and many of you might have wondered if there was a word for it. Well, indeed there is: petrichor. (The pronunciation can be found here.)

You might have noticed that this is also my pseudonym on this blog.

Friday, 18 June 2010


Did you know that the word we use for a spare wheel, stepney, comes from Stepney Street in Llanelli, Wales, where the first spare wheels were manufactured. It was invented in 1904 by two brothers, Tom and Walter Davies who were ironmongers by profession and who later branched out into assembling bicycles and then into hiring out cars.

The Stepney Spare Wheel consisted of a pre-inflated tyre mounted on a spoke-less iron wheel rim which could be clamped onto a deflated tyre (see picture).

India is one of the very few countries where the word stepney  is still used.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Phenomena and Alumni

The words phenomena and alumni  are plural nouns but are frequently used as if they were singular, as seen in the following examples:

  • "This is a phenomena that has started since the entry of Reliance in the GSM market in January this year," said an analyst with a Mumbai-based brokerage. (
  •  Sometimes a phenomena called ballooning occurs in hydraulic circuits where the hydraulic brake hoses swell up after repeated braking... (
  •  An alumni of the famed Loyola College, Chennai, Shri Vaithilingam imbibed a zeal and commitment for public service from his student days. (
  •  Lt. Gen. Rajinder Singh Sujlana is an alumni of National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla and the Indian Military Academy. (
 In these examples the singular forms, phenomenon and alumnus, were needed.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010


Personnel is frequently used by the press in India even when referring to a single person, particularly if he belongs to the armed forces (see the examples below). This is an error since personnel is plural. Serviceman can often be an appropriate substitute in cases where the rank of the person is not known.

1. It was unfortunate that an army personnel posted at a high altitude field area who met with an accident while at duty was granted a meagre pension. (

2.  On Tuesday night, one terrorist and an army personnel along with a civilian were killed in another gun battle in the area. (

3. The other argument of the police was that the service rules did not permit grant of out-of-turn promotion more than twice in the career of a police personnel. (

In the first two examples, serviceman would have served the purpose and in the third one policeman would have been perfect.