What is the meaning and origin of ‘out of sorts’?

(B. Mukund, Bangalore)

The expression is mostly used in informal contexts. When you say that you are ‘out of sorts’, you mean that you are not your usual self. You do not feel one hundred per cent okay, and as a result, are grumpy and irritable.

*Is something wrong? You look out of sorts today.

According to some scholars, the expression comes from the world of printing. In the past, typesetters composed each page manually; it was a laborious process. The person first picked the letters that made up a word and then proceeded to put them together. In the world of printing, these letters were called ‘sorts’.

Sometimes, while composing a page, the typesetter ran out of sorts. When this happened, when he didn’t have enough letters to complete the task at hand, he often became irritated or frustrated. Not everyone, however, believes that this is how the idiom came into being.

What is the difference between ‘prone’ and ‘supine’?

(J. Vinod, Gulbarga)

First, let us deal with the pronunciation of ‘supine’. The ‘u’ in the first syllable is like the ‘oo’ in ‘cool’, ‘pool’ and ‘fool’. The second syllable rhymes with the words ‘fine’, ‘shine’ and ‘dine’. One way of pronouncing the word is ‘SOO-pine’ with the stress on the first syllable. It is also possible to pronounce it ‘SYOO-pine’. When you lie supine on the floor or on the bed, you are lying flat on your back, looking up.

*Rama was lying supine on the couch and reading the newspaper.

The word has a figurative meaning as well. When you refer to someone as being supine, you mean he is an individual without a backbone. He is someone who can be easily controlled or manipulated by others because he is very weak or lazy.

*The supine administration refused to take action against the teachers.

The word ‘prone’ can also be used to refer to the manner in which a person lies down. When you lie prone on the sofa, you lie face down; in other words, you are on your stomach and not on your back.

*The body of the murdered woman was lying prone on the floor.

How is the word ‘verbiage’ pronounced?

(S. David, Hyderabad)

The word consists of three syllables, and not two. The first syllable is pronounced like the word ‘verb’, and the following ‘i’ is like the ‘i’ in ‘pit’, ‘kit’ and ‘bit’. The final ‘age’ is pronounced like the ‘idge’ in ‘fridge’, ‘bridge’ and ‘ridge’. This rather formal word is pronounced ‘VERB-i-ij’ with the stress on the first syllable. It is mostly used to refer to the manner in which someone writes or speaks. When someone uses too many words in order to say something, he can be accused of verbiage.

In addition to the number of words used, often the language tends to be very complicated making it rather difficult for the listener/reader to understand. The word comes from the French ‘verbier’ meaning ‘to chatter’.

*The chapter needs to be edited. Spend some time removing the verbiage.

*Madhav’s talk contained too much technical verbiage.

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“Since my last report, your child has reached rock bottom and has started to dig.”Teacher

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