Know your English — What is the difference between ‘café’ and ‘cafeteria’?

October 06, 2014 09:36 pm | Updated May 23, 2016 07:32 pm IST

What is the difference between ‘café’ and ‘cafeteria’?

(J. Damini, Bangalore)

First, let us deal with the pronunciation of ‘café’. In India, some people make it rhyme with the word ‘safe’. The word ‘café’, however, consists of two syllables. The ‘a’ in the first sounds like the ‘a’ in ‘cat’ and ‘bat’, while the ‘fe’ rhymes with the words ‘say’ and ‘pay’. One way of pronouncing the word is ‘KA-fay’ with the stress on the first syllable. The word comes from the French ‘café’ meaning coffee house. It is usually a relatively small place that sells non-alcoholic beverages along with a few items of food such as sandwiches and pastries. A cafe can be located inside a building or it can be an open-air establishment. I understand that in Europe, cafes also serve alcohol. A ‘cafeteria’, on the other hand, is an establishment where the customer selects the food items he wants, puts them on a tray and pays for them before sitting down to eat — what we in India sometimes refer to as ‘self-service’. Usually in a cafeteria, you pay first and eat later.

Why do cricket commentators say, ‘He shies at the stumps’?

(K. Sunderam, Chennai)

When a fielder throws the ball in an attempt to run out a batsman, commentators frequently use the expression ‘takes a shy at the stumps’. The word ‘shy’ in this context does not mean to feel uncomfortable or nervous. Like many words in English, ‘shy’ has several different meanings; in this context, it means to throw while moving laterally. When a fielder shies at the stumps, he is trying to hit the wickets while moving sideways. Nowadays, the word is used interchangeably with ‘throw’.

*The children were shying stones at the helpless puppy.

Why are some doctors referred to as ‘quacks’?

(C. Nagesh, Vellore)

When you call a doctor a ‘quack’, you are suggesting he is a fraud; that he doesn’t possess any special knowledge about medicine. The word comes from the ancient Dutch word ‘quacksalver’; ‘quacken’ meant ‘to brag or boast’, and ‘salve’ meant ointment.

In the past, fake doctors carried their potions and ointments to fairs. After setting up their stall, they proudly announced to the world that their miracle medicine was capable of curing a person of any disease. In order to be seen and heard, these quacks used to stand on a bench and shout at the top of their voice.

What is the meaning of ‘some’ in ‘That is some house’?

(S Sashi, Kochi)

The word ‘some’ has several different meanings. When it is used before a noun, it can mean ‘excellent’ or ‘extraordinary’. When you say that it is some house, you are suggesting it is an excellent or a great house. This use of ‘some’ is considered informal.

*I thoroughly enjoyed myself. That was some party.

Is it okay to say, ‘Our club will be putting up a new play’?

(Mallika Rao, Kurnool)

When it comes to staging a play, it is common to hear people in India say that they are going to ‘put up a play’. Native speakers of English, however, prefer to say ‘put on a play’.

*We are putting on a musical this year.


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