There are some people who are afraid to get married. Is there a word for this kind of fear?

(Nikhil Kumar, Delhi)

The word you are looking for is ‘gamophobia'. The first syllable rhymes with ‘cram', ‘dam' and ‘Sam', and the following ‘o' is like the ‘a' in ‘china'. The word is pronounced ‘ga-me-PHO-bia with the stress on the third syllable. It comes from the Greek ‘gamo' meaning ‘marriage'. Someone who has gamophobia has the morbid fear of getting married or being in a relationship; this individual fears commitment. The opposite of ‘gamophobia' is ‘anuptophobia' — it is the fear of being or staying single! A state of bliss that some married individuals would love to return to!

How is the word ‘tsetse' pronounced?

(Sibhi, Nagercoil)

The ‘set' sounds like the word ‘set' and the final ‘e' is like the ‘i' in ‘bit', ‘kit', and ‘sit'. The word is pronounced ‘TSET-si' with the stress on the first syllable. A simpler way of pronouncing this word is ‘TET-si'. The ‘tsetse' is a blood-sucking fly found in Africa that feeds on both animal and human blood. Its bite can prove fatal to animals.

What is the meaning and origin of ‘top drawer'?

(M. Bhanumathy, Vizag)

This is a shortened version of a relatively old expression ‘out of the top drawer', and it was initially used to refer to the social standing of an individual. When you said that someone was ‘top drawer', it meant that the individual was of a very high social standing. He and the members of his family belonged to the highest class. Nowadays, the expression is used with things and people to mean ‘the best' or excellent.

*Chetan has been saving money to buy a bike — a top-drawer model.

*The Vice-Chancellor said that he would only hire people who were top drawer.

The ‘drawer' in the expression refers to the chest of drawers or cupboard in which people kept their belongings. In the old days, the top drawer was usually reserved for the best and most important items — expensive jewellery, new clothes, etc.

Why do people talk about the ‘minutes' of a meeting?

(Prashant Chaturvedi, Gwalior)

Most people mistakenly think that in the context of a meeting, the word ‘minutes' refers to time. It does not. M...i...n...u...t...e, as we all know, can be used to refer to time and also to the size of an object. When you say that something is minute (pronounced ‘my-NEWT), you mean that it is very small. Both words come from the Latin ‘minutus' meaning ‘small'. I understand the original expression was ‘minuta scriptura' meaning ‘small writing'. In the old days, when someone recorded the minutes of a meeting, he made sure that the letters he wrote on the page were small — in other words, they were ‘minute'. Later, when the final version of the document was written, the size of the letters increased.

What is the meaning of ‘yob'?

(G.Sajit, Thiruvananthapuram)

This is a word mostly used in British English in informal contexts. If you reverse the word ‘yob', what do you get? You get the word ‘boy'! A ‘yob' or ‘yobbo' is someone who is relatively young, who behaves in a rather rude manner. He is often loud and at times prone to violence.

*The yobs at the street corner spend their evening teasing girls.


“Middle age is when your broad mind and narrow waist begin to change places.”

E. Joseph Crossman