What is the meaning of ‘ultracrepidarian’?

(L Kamesh, Bangalore)

First, let us deal with the pronunciation of the word. The first two syllables are pronounced like the word ‘ultra’, and the following ‘crep’ rhymes with ‘prep’ and ‘rep’. The ‘I’ is like the ‘I’ in ‘bit’, ‘hit’, and ‘sit’, and the ‘dar’ is pronounced like the word ‘dare’. The word is pronounced ‘ul-tra-krep-i-DARE-ien’ with the stress on the fifth syllable. An ultracrepidarian is someone who is in the habit of giving advice on matters he himself knows nothing about — like a politician! This Latin word literally means ‘beyond the shoe’.

*My ultracrepidarian uncle will be spending two weeks with us.

The story goes that when the Greek painter Apellis displayed his beautiful painting of Alexander the Great, a shoemaker pointed out that the sandals in the painting did not have the required number of loops. The artist thanked him, and immediately set about making the required changes. Once they had been carried out, the emboldened shoemaker began to comment on other aspects of the painting — the shape of Alexander's legs, his robes, etc.

Apellis put an end to it by saying, “Sutor, ne ultra crepidam”, meaning “shoemaker, not above the sandal”. The wise painter was trying to tell the shoemaker that he should limit his comments to his area of expertise — shoes — and avoid passing judgment on things he knows nothing about. William Hazlitt, the well-known essayist, coined the word ‘ultracrepidarin’ in 1819.

What is the difference between ‘as if’ and ‘as though’?

(V Sundaramoorthi, Chennai)

In terms of meaning, there is no difference between the two expressions. They can be used interchangeably when you are referring to how someone looks or behaves. In formal contexts, the verb that follows these expressions is usually in the plural. In everyday conversation, however, people generally make use of the singular verb.

*Arthi looked as if/as though she were going to throw up.

How is the word ‘resuscitate’ pronounced?

(BS Mathew, Thiruvananthapuram)

The ‘e’ in the first syllable and the ‘i’ in the third are pronounced like the ‘i’ in ‘hit’, ‘bit’ and ‘fit’. The second syllable ‘sus’ rhymes with ‘bus’, ‘us’ and ‘fuss’, while the final syllable rhymes with ‘fate’, ‘date’ and ‘late’. The ‘c’ is silent. The word is pronounced ‘ri-SUS-i-tate’ with the stress on the second syllable. It comes from the Latin ‘resuscitatus’ meaning to revive or raise. Nowadays, the word is mostly used to mean to revive someone who is unconscious or is very close to death.

*While he was in hospital, he had a heart attack. The doctors were unable to resuscitate him.

Resuscitate has a figurative meaning as well; it is used very often nowadays to mean to make something active and vigorous again.

*The government is trying to resuscitate the country’s economy.

Is it okay to say, ‘She is a nice car’?

(S. Nalini, Madurai)

Although most people would say ‘It is a nice car’, English allows the pronoun ‘she’ to be used with ships, cars and countries. Also, with hurricanes!

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“I love mankind. It’s the people I can’t stand.”Charles Schultz

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