He is a rebel who will fight those in power

The old clock in the dining room has gone haywire

December 26, 2022 10:10 am | Updated 10:10 am IST

Why do we say, ‘The young man went haywire’? (Amit, Kolkata)

The expression ‘go haywire’ is mostly used in American English in informal contexts. When a person begins to behave in an eccentric or odd manner, he can be said to have gone haywire. The change in behaviour usually happens suddenly.

When the boss informed Sharada that her proposal had been turned down, she went haywire.  

Harish will go haywire if he doesn’t get the loan.

The expression can be used with things as well. When you say that your scooter has gone haywire, what you are suggesting is that the vehicle is behaving erratically, and it is causing you a lot of problems. Perhaps it is not starting at all — or it could be that the engine keeps switching off while you are driving. 

The old clock in the dining room has gone haywire. You need to replace it. 

The TV went haywire this afternoon. I think it was because of the low voltage. 

Several theories have been put forward regarding the origin of this expression. One of them is the following. A ‘haywire’ is a strong, thin piece of wire that farmers generally use to tie bundles of hay together. The wire is wrapped around every bundle very tightly; so much so, when it is cut, the wire behaves in an unpredictable manner. Sometimes, the wire springs back at the person cutting it, and in the process, injures him. 

What is the difference between ‘malcontent’ and ‘unhappy’? (J. Harini, Chennai)

Both individuals have complaints about the situation they are in. They find fault with the things happening around them. An ‘unhappy individual’ may choose not to talk about the cause of his unhappiness. He may keep his thoughts to himself, and may do nothing to change the situation that he is in. A ‘malcontent’, on the other hand, will not keep quiet. He not only complains about the situation he finds himself in, he also tells you what he is going to do to solve the problem. A malcontent is a man of action; he is a rebel who is willing to fight those in power. While an unhappy individual focuses on personal problems, a malcontent focuses on the problems he sees in the society we live in, it could be social or political injustice. Unlike an unhappy individual, he wishes to bring about change; not necessarily, by peaceful means. He is someone who is very difficult to deal with.

Several malcontents with protest signs were seen shouting outside the VC’s office.

Police prevented several malcontents from entering the building.

Is it okay to say, ‘While climbing, I had a difficulty in breathing’? (R Niranjana, Kochi)

No, it is not. You usually have ‘difficulty (in) doing something’. You do not have ‘a difficulty’. The ‘a’ is usually dropped in such sentences. 

The children had difficulty in understanding what the teacher was saying.

“A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant, and the crazy, crazier.”

H.L. Mencken


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