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Deepti Menon

 

A blog series exploring the etymology of some interesting words

 

When Words Can Trip You Over...

 
 

English can be very confusing, especially if one thinks in one’s mother tongue first, and then translates the same into English. Fluency comes with reading, writing and of course, speaking. However, there is no need to panic if you cannot speak fluently, but are making an attempt to do so. For, as H. Jackson Brown Jr. put it, “Never make fun of someone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language.”

 

Which are the most common usages that people trip over when attempting to speak in English?

  1. I met Anand the other day. He seemed on top of the world. “I got married with Swati last week!” he exclaimed.

The correct way to put this would be – “I got married to Swati last week.” or “Swati and I were married last week.”

 

  1. The clerk asked the long-haired man what his name was. “Myself, Sebastian,” he replied.

“I’m Sebastian.” Or “My name is Sebastian.” Either of these sounds better.

 

  1. “Oh, you are a writer?” she remarked. “I look forward to read your book.”

This is a rather common mistake. The proper expression is - “I look forward to reading your book.”

 

  1. To carry on the previous conversation, “After I will read your book, I will write a review.”

“After I read your book, I will write a review.” This leads one to hope that a review will follow!

 

  1. Hail to the Apostrophe! The misplaced apostrophe is a sure-shot killer. I have often seen this glaring out at me in lifts, on posters and user manuals – ‘Do’s and Don’ts’.

The apostrophe either indicates possession (something belonging to someone, as in ‘the elephant’s memory’, or a contracted word, as above – ‘don’t’ which means ‘do not’. However, in the word ‘do’, the apostrophe is irrelevant, and should be written as ‘Dos’.

 

  1. “Do you like to go for a movie?” A lovesick swain should not word his request, thus, if he wants to make an impression on his crush, especially if he is asking her out.

“Would you like to go for a movie?” would have the required impact.

“Do you like going for movies?” is a way to assess the girl’s mind before he pops the above question.

 

  1. Come Valentine’s Day, and the market is filled with greeting cards of all sizes and shapes, each calculated to charm one’s love. For example, a girl opens a heart-shaped card, with the most attractive words inside. “Come Valentine and you’ll be mine!” or words to that effect. The girl’s heart is about to turn into mush, when two words strike her heart cold, and the music ends right there. At the end of the card, she reads, “Your beautiful!” Enough said!

 

  1. Another common error leaps out when I edit manuscripts, or listen to people speak.

“One of my close friend lives in the next lane.” Or “One of the candidate was not formally dressed.” Here, the reference is to one among many, and hence, the nouns should be in the plural. “One of my close friends...” and “One of the candidates...”

 

  1. Sometimes, one eavesdrops upon a conversation unwillingly. This happens when one is sitting in a train, desperately trying to read that oh-so-thrilling novel, and a duo sitting by finish their ‘alu-parathas’ and pickle (the aromas give the mystery away!), and settle down for a long drawn-out conversation. Having eaten well, their voices echo off the rooftops. “I didn’t knew you’re a South Indian.” (Is that because of the ‘parathas’?) I have half a mind of butting in. “Excuse me; I didn’t know that you’re a South Indian.” However, the response would invariably be, “Exactly what I said.”

Since the verb ‘did’ is already in the past tense, there is no need for the next verb ‘know’ to take the same form.

 

  1. Invite versus Invitation: In modern parlance, the two are being used as alternatives. For example, “The committee sent an invite to the Minister.”

The correct way to say this is “The committee sent an invitation to the Minister.” Here, the word ‘invitation’ is a noun.

The word ‘invite’ has always been a verb and remains so today as well.  So, the above sentence can be rewritten to read – “The Committee invited the Minister.”

 

  1. At times, we use the wrong verb form, because that is how we hear the word orally. For example, “The Indian women’s cricket team should of won the finals. However, the nation is still proud of them.”

“Should of” sounds like “should have”, which is the correct form here.

“The Indian women’s cricket team should have won the finals.”

 

  1. “She walked into the lobby with her pet dog, Cindy, her parents, Shahrukh and Gauri Khan.”

What can you make out from the rather ambiguous sentence?  There are a couple of assumptions you can make.

  1. Her pet dog’s name is Cindy.
  2. Her parents are Shahrukh and Gauri Khan.

            However, what this sentence was meant to convey was:

           “She walked into the lobby with Cindy, her pet dog, her parents and Shahrukh and

            Gauri Khan.”

            Hence, sentence structure is vital in English, especially if one doesn’t want to make 

             embarrassing gaffes.

Finally, as Jonathan Culver so cleverly put it, “The English language is a work in progress. Have fun with it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, here is a sentence that I fell in love with.

“She wanted to hold foreign syllables like mints on her tongue until they dissolved into fluency.” Anthony Marra

What could be more pleasing than that?

 

 
Deepti Menon ia an editor and author based in Chennai. She has written two books, Arms and the Woman and Shadow in the MirrorMany of her short stories can be found within the pages of popular anthologies like 21 Tales to TellChronicles of Urban Nomads, Mango ChutneyCrossed and Knotted (India's first composite novel that has found a place in the Limca Book of Records), Rudraksha, Upper CutDefiant DreamsWhen They Spoke, and many others.