Does one become ‘weary of something' or ‘weary with something'?

(C. Gayathri, Chennai)

In everyday conversation, we mostly hear people say that they are ‘weary of something or someone'. The expression is mostly used to mean that they are tired or bored of something or someone.

*After six months in the hostel, Sheba had grown weary of potato curry.

We don't normally say ‘'weary with something'. It is, however, possible to say ‘weary someone with something'. When you bore or tire a person with something — perhaps with your litany of complaints or constant requests — you weary him/her with it.

*The workers wearied the new Manager with their petty complaints.

The ‘wea' in ‘weary', by the way, rhymes with the words ‘near', ‘dear', and ‘fear'. The word is pronounced ‘WEA-ri' with the stress on the first syllable.

How is the word ‘riposte' pronounced?

(K. Naveen, Bangalore)

The British and the Americans seem to pronounce this word very differently. The Americans pronounce the second syllable like the word ‘ post'— rhyming with ‘host', ‘most', and ‘coast'. The British, on the other hand, pronounce the ‘o' like the ‘o' in ‘got', ‘hot', and ‘pot'. In both varieties, however, the stress is on the second syllable. A ‘riposte' is a quick witty reply to something that someone has said. It is a retort. Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister who was sometimes referred to as ‘the British bulldog', was well-known for his ripostes. Once a woman told Churchill that if she had been his wife, she would have poisoned his tea. To which Churchill replied, “If you were my wife, I'd drink it!” Many of us fail to come up with a riposte at the right time. We think of a clever answer long after the event.

*It's no fun teasing Madhu. She's incapable of coming up with a suitable riposte.

What is the meaning and origin of ‘canary in a coal mine'?

(B. Pinto, Dindigul)

This is an expression that is not heard very frequently these days. The first time I came across it was in the mid 1980s when I heard The Police sing a song titled ‘Canary in a coalmine'. Gordon Sumner, better known as ‘Sting', was the band's lead singer. Someone or something that serves as a warning to others is generally referred to as a canary in a coalmine; the person or thing is an indicator that the situation is becoming dangerous.

*Before entering the tunnel, we sent in the convicts to see if the air was poisonous. They were merely canaries in a coalmine.

For several centuries, miners used to carry a caged canary with them when they went to work. These small songbirds were used to determine how good or how bad the air was inside the mines. Since mines in the past did not always have a good ventilation system, deadly gases like methane and carbon monoxide often built up in the shafts, making them dangerous places for people to work in. The canary was very sensitive to these odourless gases; even a small amount was enough to kill the bird. As long as the bird kept chirping, the miners knew that the air was safe; but if the bird curled up and died, it served as a warning to the people that they must leave the place immediately.


“Last week the candle factory burned down. Everyone just stood around and sang Happy Birthday.”Stephen Wright