What is the meaning and origin of ‘hit the ball on the screws’?

(L. Ganesh, Vellore)

Australian cricket commentators seem to be quite fond of this expression — especially, Ian Healy. When a batsman ‘hits the ball on the screws’, he hits it extremely well; he hits it off the middle of the bat. The expression suggests that one can hear the sweet sound of the bat hitting the ball. It is also possible to say ‘hit the ball between the screws’.

*Sachin has been hitting the ball on the screws in this innings.

The expression comes from the world of golf. In the past, all the clubs that the players used were made of wood. To ensure that a club lasted for a long time, the manufacturers often inserted or attached a metal plate or a piece of plastic into the wood. Several screws were used to make sure that the plate stayed in place. The space between the screws was the ‘sweet spot’ of the club; therefore, when you hit the ball ‘between the screws’ or ‘on the screws’, you were timing your strokes beautifully.

How is the word ‘mannequin’ pronounced?

(BM Bharat, Hyderabad)

The first syllable is pronounced like the word ‘man’, and the ‘e’ that follows is like the ‘a’ in ‘china’. The final ‘quin’ sounds like the word ‘kin’. One way of pronouncing the word is ‘MAN-e-kin’ with the stress on the first syllable. It comes from the Dutch ‘mannekjin’ meaning ‘little man’ or ‘little doll’. Nowadays, the word is mostly used to refer to the dressed up dummy that shopkeepers keep near their store window.

*I mistook the mannequin by the window to be a little boy.

In the past, the word ‘mannequin’ was used to refer to people as well — those who displayed clothes to customers who visited their shops. I don’t think the supermodels of today would like it if we referred to them as ‘mannequins’!

What is the difference between ‘I will eat anything but pizza’ and ‘I’ll eat nothing but pizza’?

(G. Vinita, Chennai)

The first sentence, ‘I will eat anything but pizza’, suggests that you are willing to eat anything except pizza; the only thing that you refuse to eat is pizza. You are willing to eat bread, dosas, idilis, puris, etc, but not pizza. The second sentence (‘nothing but’) suggests that the only thing you will eat is pizza; you will not eat anything else.

*The children will play anything but hide-and-seek.

*Throughout summer, the children played nothing but hide-and-seek.

Why is a boxer called ‘pugilist’?

(Hrishikesh, Delhi)

First, let us deal with the pronunciation of the word. The first syllable ‘pu’ rhymes with ‘few’ and ‘due’, while the following ‘g’ sounds like the ‘j’ in ‘juice’ and ‘jump’. The ‘i’ is like the ‘i’ in ‘bit’ and ‘hit’, and the final syllable is pronounced like the word ‘list’. The word is pronounced ‘PYOO-ji-list’ with the stress on the first syllable. The word comes from the Latin ‘pugnus’ meaning ‘fist’; the word ‘pugil’ was initially used to refer to anyone who fought with his fists. It was only later that the term was used to refer to boxers.


“Boxing is the only sport where you can get your brain shook, your money took and your name in the undertaker’s book.”Joe Frazier