Sunday, 20 November 2011

Public Interest Litigation (PIL) vs Public Interest Petition (PIP)

  • Actor Imran Khan has taken on the state government for raising the drinking age to 25. The actor plans to file a public interest litigation against the new regulation.(Times of India)
  • The city-based NGO Aapla Parisar will file a public interest litigation (PIL) demanding

Monday, 14 November 2011


Today is World Diabetes Day. The WHO estimates that more than 346 million people in the world suffer from this disorder and this number is increasing at a worrying rate.

Diabetes mellitus is the proper medical term for this disorder and frequent urination is one of its most common symptoms, which is how it got its name. The name diabetes (literally, a passer through; a siphon) was coined by an ancient Greek physician who noticed that patients of this disease passed an excessive amount of urine.

In 1675 a physician called Thomas Willis added mellitus to the name. Mellitus is a Latin word which means sweetened with honey and refers to the sweetness of urine in diabetics caused by excessive blood sugar.

Saturday, 12 November 2011


Potboiler is frequently used in Indian journalism for describing a typical, formulaic film. Merriam-Webster defines it as a usually inferior work of art or literature produced chiefly for profit.

Image: Coeruleus

Such a movie or book would bring in money to keep pots of food boiling, hence the term.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Tone-deaf vs Stone-deaf

Merriam-Webster defines tone-deaf  as "relatively insensitive to differences in musical pitch" whereas stone-deaf  means "completely deaf".


Incidentally, both terms are hyphenated since they serve as adjectives.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Life-sized vs larger-than-life

According to a news report on, the recently-inaugurated Dalit Prerna Sthal in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, has 12 life-size statues of Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and the UP Chief Minister herself. However, it has been reported elsewhere that these bronze figures are about 12 feet tall, which is more than twice the height of Chief Minister Mayawati. (see photo below)


A life-sized statue or image is one which is of the same size as the subject is in real life. The bronze statues in Noida, hence, are not life-sized but larger-than-life.

Friday, 7 October 2011

A cool blog, a unique temple and some fascinating words

A few days ago I came across the website Know Your English, a compilation of a weekly column by the same name in the newspaper The Hindu. Each week the column explains the correct use, meaning or pronunciation of a different word or expression, or the subtle difference between two similar words.

Monday, 22 August 2011


Anna Hazare has been on a protest fast for almost a week and public support for him and for the Jan Lok Pal has been growing by the day, throughout India. I don't know what his confrontation with the government will lead to but it has certainly made the tv-news more interesting.

But what does all this have to do with the English language?

Well, the other day I began thinking about the word fast and I was wondering how it came to acquire this meaning. So I decided to investigate.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the original meaning of the verb to fast was "to hold firmly" which evolved into "firm control of oneself" and then to "holding to observance".

The verb to fasten now makes sense: "to close something such as a piece of clothing or a bag using the buttons, zip, clip etc. on it", as Macmillan Dictionary says.

And so does the meaning of the adjective  fast: "firmly fixed, steadfast, secure, enclosed", from which we get fast friends, meaning "firm friends".

As an adverb it means "quickly, swiftly", which evolved from its original meaning: "firmly, strongly, vigorously", hence the phrase fast asleep. 

Sunday, 7 August 2011

External links

Here are links to some interesting articles that I came across recently:-

1. Not all adverbs end in -ly.

2. The subjunctive in English; you could forget about the article but do read the comments.

3. A very clear spelling mistake.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


Sticking to the world of music, today's word is mondegreen. You may have never heard or read this word before but it refers to something that you are certainly familiar with.

A mondegreen is simply a word or group of words that a person mishears in a song. (You can listen to the pronunciation of the word here).  

A famous example of a mondegreen is the title of the well-known series of travel guides, Lonely Planet. The founders of this series, Tony and Maureen Wheeler, gave their guidebooks this name after they heard the words lonely planet in a song. It was only later that they realised that the real lyrics were lovely planet.

Take a look at this hilarious Youtube video of Nelly Furtado's I'm like a bird:

And this video of Livin' la vida loca by Ricky Martin.

Sunday, 1 May 2011


Most people have had the unpleasant experience of a song playing endlessly in their heads and not knowing how to stop it. Well, now you know what to call it: earworm, which is a literal translation of the German word ohrwurm.

Wikipedia defines earworm as a portion of a song or other music that repeats compulsively within one's mind, put colloquially as  "music being stuck in onĂ©s head ." 

There is even a website dedicated to earworms.       

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Lakhs and crores

The terms lakh and crore are widely used in the English-language media in India — in newspapers and magazines, tv channels, government publications and even in the financial statements of Indian companies — and I think it is about time that we shifted to using hundred thousand and million instead.

The Indian economy has been growing fast for many years and so has international trade but we are still out of tune with the rest of the world in this respect. We use the Gregorian calendar rather than the Hindu calendar, don't we? So why not dispense with lakh and crore, which are understood only in South Asia, and start using the standard terms which are understood throughout the world. Of course, we should continue using lakh and crore in the Hindi language.

What do you think?

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Flammable vs Inflammable

You must have read the words Highly Inflammable painted on many oil tankers in India and Highly Flammable on others. That's really odd; isn't inflammable the opposite of flammable? Is there a difference in the type of fuel that they carry?

                                                                  Image: Hockadilly

This is one of those things in the English language that leave you scratching your head. Adding the prefix in- usually turns the meaning of a word on its head: for example, injustice is the opposite of justice. But in the case of the words flammable and inflammable, both mean the same thing — "likely to burn easily and quickly" — and can be used interchangeably when talking about materials, like fuel and cloth. The opposite of these words is non-flammable.

 Inflammable can also be used in a figurative sense to mean "easily aroused to anger or passion" (Collins Dictionary).

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Diffuse vs Defuse

The words diffuse and defuse are frequently confused in Indian publications, probably because they sound so similar. Here are three examples:
  • The Zakir Nagar area near Jamia Nagar in southeast Delhi was tense after mobs surrounded an Uttar Pradesh police team and allegedly beat them up when they came to arrest an accused wanted in a burglary case in western Uttar Pradesh. The SHO of Jamia Nagar had to lead a team to the area to diffuse the tension. (Times of India, Jan 20, 2011)
  • The Congress central leadership has promptly swung into action to diffuse the crisis in Andhra Pradesh when a group of newly sworn-in ministers rebelled against the chief minister Nallari Kiran Kumar Reddy protesting that they were given insignificant portfolios. (Live Mint, Dec 02, 2010)
  • The police are likely to hold similar recruitment drives in all the other areas of the old city. The police see the drive as a move to diffuse another "possible uprising" in 2011. (India Today, Jan 13, 2011).
Funnily enough, they have nearly opposite meanings: to diffuse means 'to spread something' (information, ideas etc.) whereas to defuse a situation, crisis or tension is 'to calm things down', 'to reduce tension, stress or emotions'. It is easy to remember the distinction: the literal meaning of defuse is 'to de-fuse a bomb', i.e. to remove the fuse of a bomb so that it does not explode.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Murder of the English Language

This is the second post with murder in the title but I assure you I am not a psychopath. Anyway, I have been thinking about this subject off and on for quite some time but I have finally decided to write about it after I read the following comments on Yahoo India in response to a news item about the Arushi murder case:

  • Oh defntly d parnts. God wl nevr 4giv u bloody murderer. How kud u kill ur own child. My gosh!!! M jus stunnd... I jus wish Arushi's soul 2 rest in peace & I hope dat she gets justic vry soon...
  • i hav a question 2 arushi'z parents...y are u not pleading for justice for ur daughter???
    werz d got @#$% justice???
  •  malini i feel u have a point.i too have these question in mind which is unanswered.
    I dnt understand when we being the individuals can think of so many questions with only knowing what they tell us without even knowing the complete truth hw do they work? Exactly abt internet the router was switched off at 3 am y ? wat it is concerned with the killer to net being offed or on. Until its some one from home to be concerned for it.
This blog entry is not about the tragic murder of Arushi and the events which followed but about the murder of the English language which is being committed in full public view. Thankfully, most of the other comments were closer (but not always close enough) to standard English than the ones quoted above.

I wonder why many Indians write like this online. Is it really so difficult / inconvenient / unnecessary to write simple, grammatically-correct sentences with reasonably good spelling? I do understand that there are many Indians who do not know this language very well but that does not explain the kind of  deliberate mis-spellings and incoherent sentences like the ones above. And I'm nt talkin abt SMSs & tweets, both of which offr vry ltd spac 4 msgs : ) I don't know about you but dis and dat in particular really get my goat; does it take too much effort to write this and that?

 To me it is akin to a candidate for a job going for the interview with unkempt hair and dressed in a scruffy shirt, torn trousers and dirty shoes; he would make a very bad impression on the interviewer and might not get the job even though he might be very good at what he does. Similarly, such slapdash writing leaves the reader with a poor impression of the writer and he might not even feel like reading all that has been written. 

But let me give them the benefit of doubt; maybe there are good reasons why they write the way they do. Here are a few possibilities that I can think of:

  • Some people lead extremely busy lives and omitting a few letters saves them a few seconds each day.
  • There are some who type with only one or two fingers, so leaving out a few characters here and there saves them a lot of time and energy.
  • Maybe they are simply rebelling against the arbitrary way in which English words are spelt and want to turn it into a phonetic language like Hindi and Spanish; so they write wud, cud and bcoz instead of the weird manner in which the dictionaries spell them.
  • It is a conspiracy by Pakistan's ISI.
  • It is a Chinese conspiracy to undermine Indians' knowledge of English.
If you can think of any other equally plausible explanations please leave them in the Comments section below.

End of rant.