His story does not ring true to me

I think he made it up as his previous story was pooh-poohed by the boss

February 20, 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 the expression ‘ring of truth’? (T Ganesh, Nellore)

The ‘ring’ in this rather informal expression has nothing to do with the ring that we wear on the finger or the ear. It has more to do with sound; like the ring of a telephone, a doorbell, etc. In this idiom, it has to do with the sound a coin makes when it is dropped. When someone gives you an explanation as to why he was late, and you respond by saying, ‘The explanation has a ring of truth’, what you are suggesting is that it sounds true. The explanation that the person has provided is believable; there is a semblance of truth in it. Nowadays, many people have reduced the idiom to ‘rings true’ and ‘does not ring true’.

The charges that the students have levelled against the Vice Chancellor have a ring of truth about them.

I don’t believe her. Her story doesn’t ring true.

In the past, coins were made of precious metals like gold, silver, copper, etc. To determine if a coin was genuine, people often dropped them on a hard surface and listened. If there wasn’t a proper metallic ring, they knew that the coin in question was a counterfeit.

Which is correct: ‘The audience was’ or ‘The audience were’? (K.P. Peter, Ernakulam)

Dictionaries give examples of this noun being followed by both singular and plural verbs. There are many nouns in English which can be followed by a singular verb or a plural one. For example, nouns like ‘team’, government, ‘jury’, ‘staff’, ‘committee’, etc. can be followed by a singular or a plural verb. Which verb you choose to use in a sentence will depend upon the meaning you wish to convey. Take for example, the noun ‘government’. If you think of it as one big entity, then you use a singular verb. If, on the other hand, you see each department as being a separate entity, then you use a plural verb. The same is true of the noun ‘audience’; if you consider everyone sitting in an auditorium as being part of a single unit, then you use a singular verb; otherwise, plural. By the way, both ‘audience’ and ‘audio’ come from the same root word. If you are member of an audience, you have come to hear or listen to something.

The audience was bored by the lengthy speech.

According to this newspaper report, the audience were booing all evening.

What is the meaning of ‘pooh-pooh’? (Kamal Laddha, Bengaluru)

The ‘ooh’ in the two words are pronounced like the ‘ue’ in ‘blue’, ‘clue’ and ‘glue’. When pronounced, it is the second ‘pooh’ that gets the main stress: pooh-POOH. When somebody makes a suggestion and you pooh-pooh it, what you are doing is dismissing it. You are of the opinion that the suggestion is rather foolish, and therefore, people should not waste time even considering it. This informal expression carries with it the sense that you have total contempt for the individual’s suggestion.

At the meeting, the teacher pooh-poohed many of the ideas put forward by the students.

If my boss pooh-poohs my revised proposal, I’m going to quit.


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