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WHAT IS the meaning and origin of the word ``laconic"? (Y. N. Murthy, Hassan)

If you want to know the meaning of the word ``laconic" all you have to do is to recall those old Amitabh Bachchan movies where he played the role of the angry young man. Remember movies like Deewar, Zanjeer, Sholay and Trishul? In these movies Amitabh hardly spoke; he was laconic. Whenever the heroine or villain spoke at length about something, Amitabh's usual response was a one liner. The word ``laconic" is usually used to refer to a person who speaks very few words. He is usually blunt and brief in what he has to say. We have at some time or the other met such a person in our life. Here are a few examples.

*The scientist's laconic replies were driving the reporter up the wall.

*A laconic politician! That is an oxymoron.

*Das' laconic speech left everyone wondering if something was wrong.

The word comes from the name of a place in Greece - ``Laconia". The Spartans who lived in this region were known for their ability to ration their words. (An ability, which I wish all our politicians, would acquire!) Whatever they said, it was to the point. The story goes that Philip of Macedon sent a message of warning to the Laconians. The message was: ``If I enter Laconia with my army, I shall raze Sparta to the ground. I will destroy it." The Laconians' terse response to this threat was ``If"!

Finally, a word about the pronunciation of ``laconic". The ``a" in the first syllable is like the ``a" in ``China", ``about", and ``announce". The following ``o" sounds like the ``o" in ``cot", ``pot", and ``hot". You can probably figure out how the final syllable is pronounced. The main stress, by the way, is on the second syllable.

Is there a word for someone who fears thunder and thunderstorms? (V. Shyamala, Bangalore)

Many of us as children were afraid of thunder and thunderstorms. So it would be rather surprising if the English language didn't have a word to refer to someone who is scared of thunder and thunderstorms. The Greek word for thunder is ``bronto". We all know what ``phobia" is. So the fear of thunder and thunderstorms is ``brontophobia". A person who suffers from this phobia is a ``brontophobe". Here are a few examples.

*Bala had to share a room with a brontophobe during a thunderstorm.

*I am told that Prakasham suffers from brontophobia.

*I wouldn't take Meera out on a night like this. She is brontophobic.

These words however are not used very often.

What is the difference between a ``robber" and a ``thief"? (Giri, Kurnool)

A thief is someone who takes things from you without your being aware of it. A pickpocket, for example, is a thief. He comes up behind you and takes away your wallet without your knowledge. A thief doesn't threaten you with a gun or a knife. In fact, in most cases, you are hardly aware of his presence.

In the case of a robber, on the other hand, you are aware of his presence. You usually come face to face with him. A robber takes things from you by threatening you; he may have a gun or a knife. In the case of a robbery, you are aware of the fact that things are being taken from you. People who force you to part with your belongings are robbers; those who take it away from you without your knowledge are thieves.

What is the meaning of the expression ``talk through one's hat"? (N. Subramanian, Chennai)

This is what our politicians do most of the time. And what is it that our elected officials are famous for? They have the tendency to give lengthy speeches/talks on subjects that they know nothing about. So when you ``talk through your hat" what you are actually doing is talking about something as if you know a lot about it, when in fact you know nothing about it. When you talk through your hat, you talk nonsense. Here are a few examples.

*Our not so beloved Professor was as usual talking through his hat.

*Jayashree was talking through her hat. She doesn't know anything about chemistry.

*Stop talking through your hat Sunila!

This expression is considered to be rather old fashioned. Another expression, which has the same meaning, is ``talk through the back of one's head". Here are a few examples.

*Sidhu talks through the back of his head most of the time.

*Pooja as usual was talking through the back of her head.

Can the first Principal of a college be called the ``founder Principal" - though he is not the one who founded the college? (Dr. C. Venkatramaiah, Tirupati)The word ``founder" is normally used with people who have established a business, school, college, etc. In your example, the Principal did not establish the college; he was merely appointed its first Principal. Perhaps the ``founder" appointed him Principal! You can refer to the individual as the ``first Principal" and not the ``founder Principal".

What is the meaning of ``bimonthly" (S. Gopalan, Coimbatore)?

The word ``bimonthly" can mean different things. A magazine or journal that is published once in two months can be called a ``bimonthly". The word can also be used to refer to a magazine that comes out twice a month. So when someone refers to a magazine as being a bimonthly, find out from him whether it is twice a month or once in two months. A magazine that comes out once in four months is called a ``quarterly". A ``fortnightly" is one that is published once in two weeks.

* * *

``Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer." - Dave Barry


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