What is the difference between ‘far-fetched' and ‘far-reaching'?

(B. Aswath, Nagpur)

The word ‘far-fetched' is mostly used to show disapproval. When you say that someone's story or account of something is ‘far-fetched', you are suggesting that you do not believe what the person has said. The story contains so many improbable elements that it is difficult to swallow. Common sense suggests what the person has said is unlikely to be true. An idea that is ‘far-fetched' is impractical.

*The child's far-fetched excuse for being late made the teacher laugh.

When something that you do has a ‘far-reaching' effect, it influences many people or things. The changes which the action brings about are usually significant and widespread.

*If strictly implemented, the new rules will have far-reaching benefits for all students.

How is the word ‘controversy' pronounced?

(T.V. Mythreye, Coimbatore)

There seems to be two different ways of pronouncing the word. One way is to pronounce the ‘con' like the word ‘con' and the following ‘o' like the ‘a' in ‘china'. In this case, the word is pronounced ‘KON-tre-ver-si' with the stress on the first syllable. Some people pronounce the first ‘o' like the ‘a' in ‘china' and the second like the ‘o' in ‘don' and ‘con'. They pronounce the word ‘ken-TRO-ver-si' with the stress on the second syllable. Both pronunciations are acceptable.

What is the meaning and origin of ‘run the gauntlet'?

(C. Sridhar, Chennai)

In everyday contexts, the expression is mostly used to mean ‘to be severely criticised by many people'. When you run the gauntlet, you face or endure a series of problems or threats. The idiom can also be used to mean ‘to be attacked from all sides'.

*The Minister had to run the gauntlet of angry farmers for attempting to promote genetically modified seeds.

The ‘gauntlet' in the idiom has nothing to do with the gloves that knights of the bygone days wore. The word is a corruption of the Swedish ‘gattalope', meaning ‘run along a narrow path'. According to historians, when a soldier in King Gustavus Adolphus' army committed a crime, he was severely punished — he was asked to strip to his waist, and run the gauntlet. The narrow path which he had to run through consisted of two rows of men — in this case, his comrades-in-arms. As the soldier ran between the rows, the men on both sides flogged him with their whips and stabbed him with their knives. The length of each row was determined by the seriousness of the crime. Very often, the soldier died before he reached the end of the line.

What is the meaning of ‘que sera, sera'?

(M.S. Surianarayanan, Coimbatore)

First, let's deal with the pronunciation of this expression. The ‘que' is pronounced like the name ‘Kay'. The ‘e' in ‘sera' is like the ‘a' in ‘china', and the ‘a' is like the ‘a' in ‘path' and ‘bath'. This is one way of pronouncing this expression which means ‘what will be, will be'. In the well-known song ‘Que Sera Sera' made famous by Doris Day, a child asks her mother whether she will be pretty and rich when she grows up. The wise mother replies, ‘Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be, the future's not ours to see, que sera, sera.'

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"When a man retires and time is no longer a matter of urgent importance, his colleagues generally present him with a watch.”—R.C. Sherriff

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