He stole my heart with his dulcet tones !

He is a man of firm rectitude and is not the type to fish in troubled waters

March 06, 2023 08:30 am | Updated 08:30 am IST

Know your English

Know your English | Photo Credit: Getty Images

What is the meaning and origin of ‘fish in troubled waters’? (Anu Mittal, Gurugram)

When you fish in troubled waters, you are attempting to take advantage of an individual’s misfortune. ‘Troubled waters’ suggests that there is chaos and confusion all around; no one is really sure how to deal with the difficult situation. You take advantage of this confusion and try to gain something for yourself.

We know you’re not here to help. You’re here to fish in troubled waters.

Given the political situation across the globe, it’s not surprising that terrorists are fishing in troubled waters.

This expression has been around for nearly five hundred years. In the past, people believed that the best time to fish was when the water was choppy, and the sea, rough. The general belief was, when the weather was bad, fish came to the surface; thus, making them easier to catch.

What is the meaning of ‘rectitude’? (K. Abhilasha, Dehradun)

First, let us deal with the pronunciation of this rather formal word. The first syllable rhymes with ‘peck’, ‘neck’ and ‘check’, while the vowel in the second, sounds like the ‘i’ in ‘tip’, ‘sip’ and ‘dip’. The ‘tu’ in the final syllable sounds like the ‘tu’ in ‘tune’, ‘tumour’ and ‘tutor’. One way of pronouncing the word is ‘RECK-ti-tyood’, with the stress on the first syllable. It comes from the Latin ‘rectus’ meaning ‘straight’ or ‘right’. Nowadays, the word is mostly used to refer to a person’s character. When you say that an individual is a model of rectitude, what you are suggesting is that he is honest, straightforward, and thinks and behaves in a way that is morally acceptable. These are the qualities that people the world over expect their leaders to have — unfortunately, in most cases, it is nothing more than wishful thinking!

My grandparents led a life of selfless moral rectitude.

Don’t be fooled by his easy-going attitude. He’s a man of steely rectitude.

What is the difference between ‘rob’ and ‘steal’? (Chandra Gopalan, New Jersey)

In both cases, you are taking something that does not belong to you. When a pickpocket ‘steals’ your wallet, you are usually not even aware of it. You realise that you have lost something much later. There are times when you don’t even realise that you have lost something. This probably explains why when you lose your heart to someone, you say ‘She/He stole my heart!’ It is also possible for one to steal money, objects and even ideas. Whenever a thief steals something, he tries not to attract attention to himself; there is no threat of violence of any kind. This, however, is not true in the case of a robbery; you will know when you are being robbed. You will come face to face with the person robbing you. He may be carrying a gun or a knife, and threaten you with dire consequences if you do not hand over the wallet or whatever it is he wants. He may even beat you up should you resist handing over the wallet.

During the party, someone stole Anita’s gold chain.

I don’t want to discuss anything with Viru. He always steals my ideas.

Ganesh was robbed at gunpoint last night.


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