What is the meaning and origin of ‘done and dusted’?

(K. Shanthi, Hyderabad)

The expression is mostly used in British English in informal contexts to mean to successfully complete something. When a businessman says that a deal has been done and dusted, he means that he has been successful in clinching it; there is nothing left to be done.

*I would like the project to be done and dusted by tomorrow.

*The match had been done and dusted by the end of the third day.

The expression comes from the world of writing. In the past, everyone made use of ink to write; people dipped their quill or pen into a bottle of ink before putting words on paper. Those of us who have used a fountain pen know that ink doesn’t dry very quickly. Sometimes, you had to wait for a long time before the paper absorbed the ink. To quicken the drying process, people used to sprinkle an absorbent dust or powder on the paper. Once the ink had dried, the powder was dusted off the paper.

Is ‘modem’ an example of an abbreviation or an acronymn?

(J. Nisanth, Dindigul)

Neither, I am afraid. An ‘abbreviation’ is the shortened form of a word or a phrase. ‘UN’, for example, is the abbreviated form of ‘United Nations’. Jawaharlal Nehru University is often abbreviated to ‘JNU’. When an individual says these abbreviated forms, he pronounces each letter separately. An ‘acronym’, on the other hand, is a word formed from the first letter of a series of words. ‘NATO’ is an acronym for ‘North Atlantic Treaty Organization’. ‘AAP’ is an acronym for ‘Aam Aadmi Party’. Unlike an abbreviation, an acronym is usually pronounced as a word; we do not say each letter individually. ‘Modem’ — the device we switch on when we wish to access the Internet — is a combination of the words ‘modulator’ and ‘de-modulator’. It is an example of a blend or portmanteau word.

Why do cricket commentators say ‘fishing outside the off stump’?

(Rahul Sharma, Kolkata)

The word ‘fish’ can be used as a noun and a verb. As a verb, it means to grope or search for something using one’s hands instead of one’s eyes. We often see women who carry large handbags fish for their cell phone — they merely put their hand inside in the bag and feel the various objects. So, when a batsman ‘fishes outside the off stump’, he merely hangs his bat out without really seeing the ball. He is hoping that somehow that the bat will meet the ball.

How is the word ‘delicatessen’ pronounced?

(L.Durgadevi, Mayiladuthurai)

‘Deli’ rhymes with ‘belly’, ‘smelly’ and ‘jelly’, while the following ‘a’ is like the ‘a’ in ‘china’. The ‘tess’ rhymes with ‘mess’, ‘less’ and ‘chess’, and the final vowel is like the ‘a’ in ‘china’. The word is pronounced ‘de-li-ke-TESS-en’ with the stress on the fourth syllable. In everyday contexts, the word is reduced to ‘deli’. The Americans borrowed it from the German ‘delikatesse’ meaning ‘a delicacy or fine food’. A delicatessen is usually a small shop that sells salads, cheese and cooked meat from foreign countries.

*Hema works in the delicatessen/deli in Vikrampuri.

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“A teacher’s job is to take a bunch of live wires and see they are all well grounded.”D. Martin

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