Know your English — Wife referred as 'better half'

January 31, 2012 01:27 am | Updated October 18, 2016 02:26 pm IST

Why is the wife always referred to as the ‘better half'?

( V.P. Balasubramanyan , Avadi )

Many people think that this rather old fashioned expression can be used only to refer to one's wife. This however is not true. Native speakers of English use it to refer to one's spouse — the ‘better half' can be the husband or the wife! The expression has been around for many centuries; in fact, the first person to use it was the Roman poet Horace. When he employed the term for the first time, he used it to refer to his friend, and not his spouse. With the passage of time, ‘better half' acquired a totally different meaning. It was used to refer to an individual's soul. By the time it was borrowed into English, the term meant one's friend or one's lover. It was in this sense that Sir Philip Sydney used it in his famous book Arcadia . It was only years later that the term began to mean what it does today — one's spouse.

*Unlike Usha, her better half seldom has anything interesting to say.

What is the meaning and origin of ‘blue-eyed boy'?

( S. Venugopal , Chennai )

This is a rather old expression that is mostly used in British and Australian English. The Americans prefer to say ‘fair-haired boy'. A ‘blue-eyed boy' is usually a young man who receives special treatment by those in power; he is admired by his bosses, and being their favourite is often groomed by them to become a leader. When you refer to someone as being the fair-haired/blue-eyed boy, it indicates that you are not particularly fond of the individual. The expression is mostly used to show disapproval. It is also possible to say ‘blue-eyed girl/fair-haired girl'. Another expression that has more or less the same meaning is ‘apple of one's eye'.

*Bala was never the blue-eyed/fair-haired boy of the administration.

*Ritu, the blue-eyed/fair-haired girl of the media, was present at the meeting.

A lot of companies in India have started producing creams which ‘lighten' one's compelxion; there are many people in our country who want to become ‘fair'. Being fair is seen as being a good thing. This is not something that is peculiar to India. Even in Western mythology, the hero was always ‘fair'; he usually had light coloured hair (blond) and blue eyes. The villain, on the other hand, was dark complexioned (when compared to the ‘god like' hero) and had dark hair.

What do you call someone who loves words?

( C. Mahesh , Mysore )

The word that you have in mind is ‘logophile'. It comes from the Greek ‘logos' meaning ‘word' and ‘phile' meaning ‘lover of'. Though compilers of dictionaries are confirmed logophiles, they tend not to include this word! Other words listed on the Internet that have the same meaning are ‘verbivore' and ‘verbophile'.

*If you want to know the meaning of the word, talk to Virat. He is a logophile.

What is the meaning of ‘i.e'?

( Abishek Anand , Delhi )

It is the abbreviated form of the Latin phrase ‘id est' meaning ‘that is'. People normally use it to mean ‘in other words'. The abbreviated form is used when you wish to explain in a different way something that you have said; when you wish to paraphrase.

*Violators, i.e., people who haven't paid the fee, will be asked to pay a penalty.


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