Know Your English

Know your English — 11-2-14

How is the word ‘hackneyed'’pronounced?

(N. Aravind, Bangalore)

The first syllable ‘hack’ rhymes with ‘back’, ‘sack’ and ‘pack’, and the following ‘neyed’ rhymes with the words ‘bid’, ‘did’ and ‘lid’. One way of pronouncing the word is ‘HACK-nid’ with the stress on the first syllable.

Some people pronounce the second syllable like the word ‘need’. ‘Hackneyed’ is normally used to refer to a phrase or a word that has been overused; an idea that is trite or unoriginal can also be referred to as being hackneyed.

*The storyline was hackneyed, but the lead actors did a great job.

*You cannot expect the party to win with such hackneyed slogans.

‘Hackney’ is the name of a village in Middlesex, England.

What is the difference between ‘penniless’ and ‘destitute’?

(J Michael, Chennai)

‘Penniless’ suggests that the individual has no money; he is broke. The word can be used to refer to someone who has suddenly become bankrupt. ‘Destitute’ is a much more formal word than ‘penniless’, and it too can be used to refer to someone who is extremely poor.

The word comes from the Latin ‘destitutus’ meaning ‘abandoned’ or ‘deserted’. Such an individual may have no money, no shelter, no food, no family, no friends, etc. His wants may not be limited to money alone — unlike someone who is penniless. If one does not have any friends, it is possible to say that the person is ‘destitute of friends’.

When you are ‘destitute of’ something, you are completely without it. It is possible for a person to be ‘destitute of mercy’ and ‘destitute of talent’. The word ‘penniless’ cannot be used in this manner.

What is the meaning and origin of ‘talk through one’s hat’?

(R. Sunanda, Madurai)

This is an expression that is mostly used in informal contexts to mean to talk nonsense. When a politician talks through his hat, he speaks about matters he knows little or nothing about; he makes ridiculous claims or statements with the utmost confidence. The original meaning of this American expression was ‘to lie’.

*At the press conference, the Minister, as usual, talked through his hat.

*Vikram was talking through his hat. He doesn’t know a thing about cricket.

Nobody is really sure about the origin of this idiom. According to some people, the expression was coined around the time Benjamin Harrison ran for the U.S. Presidency. During his campaign, Harrison visited all constituencies wearing his trademark beaver hat. Newspapers often carried cartoons showing that it was the beaver on top of Harrison’s head that was doing all the talking. His opponents maintained that Harrison was talking to the public through his hat!

Which is right? ‘He jumped on the bed’ or ‘He jumped onto the bed’?

(D. Pankaj, Nagpur)

In terms of grammar, both are acceptable; in certain contexts, however, they might have a slightly different meaning. The second sentence seems to suggest that the person climbed into bed. Perhaps, he wanted to lie down. ‘He jumped on the bed’, on the other hand, suggests that the person was jumping up and down on the bed. Kids love to jump on the bed.


“He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.”GB Shaw

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 11:55:20 PM |

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