What is the meaning and origin of ‘silver bullet’?

(H.N. Mithun, Bangalore)

When you refer to something as being a ‘silver bullet’, it suggests that it is something that provides a very quick solution to a complex or difficult problem. Like any panacea, it provides a neat solution to the problem at hand. A silver bullet is like a magic wand that makes all problems disappear.

*There is no silver bullet that will solve all the problems of the company.

*The children think they have found a silver bullet for their numerous problems.

Many people, even today, believe that creatures like ghosts, vampires and werewolves exist. In the past, the standard belief was that the only way to kill a werewolf was by shooting it with silver bullets. All other methods would prove unsuccessful.

What is the difference between ‘muck up’ and ‘muck in’?

(K. Jayanta, Chennai)

Both expressions are mostly used in informal contexts. When you ‘muck something up’, you bungle or spoil it. For example, when someone ‘mucks up’ the work that you have given him, he makes a complete mess of it. This is one of the meanings of the expression.

*Please don’t give this important task to Jai. He’ll muck it up.

‘Muck in’, on the other hand, is mostly used in British English. When you muck in, you lend a helping hand to someone in order to complete a given task. The expression suggests there is a sharing of the workload.

*The students all mucked in and cleaned up the auditorium in no time.

How is the word ‘valet’ pronounced?

(T.P. Baru, Secunderabad)

There seems to be different ways of pronouncing this word of French origin. One way is to pronounce the ‘a’ in the first syllable like the ‘a’ in ‘cat’, ‘bat’ and ‘hat’, and the ‘let’ in the second like the word ‘lay’. The word can be pronounced ‘VA-lay’ with the stress on the first syllable. Some people pronounce the ‘e’ like the ‘i’ in ‘bit’, ‘kit’ and ‘sit’. They pronounce the word ‘VA-lit’. In American English, the word is normally used to refer to someone who has been hired to clean or park cars. In British English, on the other hand, it is used to refer to a male attendant; someone who takes care of the needs of his employer. He is like a butler. In the novels of PG Wodehouse, Jeeves is Bertram Wooster’s valet.

*In his next birth, Bala wishes to be PG Wodehouse’s valet.

*Most restaurants in the city have valet parking.

Is it okay to say ‘Sunday is longer than Monday’?

(Prakash Rao, Hubli)

Within India, you can use it; the expression, however, does not seem to exist in native varieties of English. It is normally used in our country when you wish to bring to someone’s notice that the sleeves of his innerwear are longer than his shirt. In the case of women, it is used when the petticoat or slip is longer than the saree or skirt that the person is wearing. Children seem to be extremely fond of this expression.

*Hey Rubina, Sunday is longer than Monday.


“If ignorance is bliss, why aren’t there more happy people in the world?” — Stephen Fry