Know Your English

Know Your English: May 30

What is the meaning and origin of ‘waiting in the wings’? (KV Jayaraman, Mysore)

During the course of an IPL match, we sometimes hear experts say that a team has several talented youngsters ‘waiting in the wings’. What they mean by this is should any of the senior players fail to perform, there are people on the team who can easily replace them. The uncapped talented youngsters are waiting for their chance to show how good they are. Chances are, they will get an opportunity to play in the near future.

There are several people waiting in the wings to take over as President.

The players waiting in the wings look forward to the daily practice sessions.

The ‘wings’ in the expression does not have anything to do with birds or planes. In the world of theatre, the sides of the stage that usually remain hidden by the curtain are called ‘wings’. An actor usually waits in the wings before he walks onto the stage to play his role.

What is the meaning of ‘deuce’ in tennis? (S Raghu Ram, Tiruchi)

You have probably been watching the French Open on TV! The scoring system in tennis makes use of some unusual terms — two of them being, ‘love’ and ‘deuce’. A tennis match usually begins after the umpire has said ‘love all’. By this, he does not mean that he wants the two players to like or love each other. In this case, the word ‘love’ has nothing to do with the emotion we normally feel when we like someone a lot. In the context of tennis, the word ‘love’ comes from the French ‘l’oeuf’ meaning ‘an egg’. In many sports, the egg is frequently used to symbolise ‘zero’. In cricket, for example, when a batsman gets out for a zero, we usually say he was out for a ‘duck’. Therefore in tennis, when the umpire shouts ‘love all’, what he means is that the score is ‘zero all’ — neither player has scored a point. The word ‘deuce’, on the other hand, is used when the scores are level; it suggests that the two players have scored three points each in the game. In order to win the game, one of the players has to score two consecutive points. This idea that a player has to win two points in a row is captured by the word ‘deuce’. It is a corruption of the French ‘deux’, meaning ‘two’.

What is the meaning of ‘vexed question’? (L Anuradha, Chennai)

When you say that you are ‘vexed’ about something, you are suggesting that you are rather frustrated or annoyed. The matter is a source of irritation because it is always at the back of your mind. A ‘vexed question’ is one to which there is no answer. The topic or the question is hotly debated, but there is no real solution to the problem.

The panellists argued over the vexed question of how to reduce corruption in India.

At the meeting, several Prime Ministers raised the vexed question of refugees.


When you’re in love, it’s the most glorious two-and-a-half days of your life. — Richard Lewis


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Printable version | Dec 9, 2021 5:41:03 AM |

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