How is the word ‘rapporteur' pronounced?

(B. Sandhya, Chennai)

The ‘a' in the first syllable sounds like the ‘a' in ‘cat', ‘bat', and ‘fat'; the second syllable sounds like the word ‘port'. The final ‘eur' sounds like the ‘ir' in ‘first', ‘thirst', and ‘shirt'. The word is pronounced ‘ra-por-TEER' with the stress on the final syllable. It is used to refer to someone who has been identified by a committee or an organisation to carry out research on something, and submit a full-fledged report. Someone who functions as a reporter and gives a brief account of the proceedings can also be called ‘rapporteur'.

*The rapporteur listened very patiently to what both parties had to say.

What is the meaning and origin of ‘on the wagon'?

(L. Kaushik, Nagpur)

This rather informal expression is used to refer to someone who abstains from drinking alcohol. The individual is usually someone who drank a lot in the past, but is now attempting to kick the habit. The opposite is 'off the wagon'. In this case, an individual who had stopped drinking, takes to the bottle again.

*Rahul is a changed man. He's been on the wagon for six months now.

The original form of this expression was ‘on the water wagon' or ‘on the water cart'. The wagon/cart in the idiom was not used to distribute water among people; it was, in fact, employed to keep the streets clean. During the 1890s, there was a concerted effort by many in the United States to bring about Prohibition. Men who vowed to stop drinking would often get onto the water wagons. They took an oath that when they became thirsty, they would not visit the bar; instead, they would down a couple of glasses of water from the wagon.

What is the difference between ‘kiss up to someone' and ‘kiss someone off'?

(R. Gayathri, Chennai)

These two expressions of American origin are considered slang and are mostly used in informal contexts. When you ‘kiss up to someone', you flatter them; you do everything possible to get into their good books. The expression is mostly used to show disapproval.

*Just do your job, Ram. There is no need to kiss up to anyone in this office.

The slang expression ‘kiss someone off' has several different meanings. One of them is ‘to write off someone or something'; to reject.

*My boss kissed off all my suggestions.

Is it okay to say, ‘We will be landing momentarily in Hyderabad'?

(T. Naresh, Hyderabad)

In terms of grammar, there is nothing wrong with the sentence. The meaning, however, is rather ambiguous. In American English, ‘momentarily' means ‘shortly' or ‘very soon'. The sentence suggests that the plane will be arriving in Hyderabad very soon. ‘Momentarily' also means ‘for a short time' or ‘for a moment'. The sentence could also mean that the plane will be landing in Hyderabad for a few seconds before taking off! To avoid the ambiguity, we could say, ‘We will be landing in Hyderabad soon'.

What is the meaning of ‘unbeknown'?

(T.H. Lawerence, Trivandrum)

This is a word that is seldom heard in everyday conversation. It is mostly used in formal contexts to mean ‘without the knowledge of'. In British English, it is also possible to say ‘unbeknownst'.

*Unbeknown to his mother, Vyomekesh bought an expensive watch for his uncle.


“I may have said the same thing before. But my explanation, I am sure, will always be different.”Oscar Wilde