Know Your English

Know Your English: May 2

What is the difference between ‘envelope’ and ‘envelop’? (L Kamana, Chennai)

‘Envelope’ is a noun and ‘envelop’ is a verb. The two words are pronounced very differently. The first syllable of the noun is pronounced like the ‘en’ in ‘pen’, ‘ten’ and ‘hen’, while the last syllable rhymes with ‘slope’, ‘cope’ and ‘hope’. One way of pronouncing this word is ‘EN-ve-lope’ with the stress on the first syllable. An envelope is what we in India call a ‘cover’— we usually put documents, cards, invitations, etc. in it.

I’m looking for an envelope to put these documents in.

In the case of the verb, the first syllable is pronounced like the ‘in’ in ‘pin’, ‘chin’ and ‘tin’ and the following ‘e’ like the ‘e’ in ‘set’ and ‘bet’. The vowel in the final syllable sounds like the ‘a’ in ‘china’. The word, in this case, is pronounced ‘in-VE-lep’ with the stress on the second syllable. It means to cover or surround something completely.

Within a matter of seconds, the fire had enveloped the house.

What is the meaning of ‘back in the saddle’? (Madhusudhan Rao, Bangalore)

For most of us who grew up watching Hollywood Westerns, when we hear this expression, we immediately remember the cowboy on his horse.

A ‘saddle’, as you probably know, is the leather seat that a rider puts on a horse’s back when he wishes to ride the animal.

A rider who is in the saddle has total control of the animal; it will do whatever he wants it to. When someone is ‘back in the saddle’, he resumes an activity that he had temporarily given up.

Who told you that I’d quit tennis? I got back in the saddle two months ago.

I think I’ll need some rest. I’ll get back in the saddle after a couple of weeks.

Native speakers of English also refer to the seat on the motorcycle and bicycle as ‘saddle’.

How is the word ‘caterwaul’ pronounced? (R Tiwari, Bhopal)

The first and third syllables are pronounced like the words ‘cat’ and ‘wall’ respectively. The ‘er’ in the second sounds like the ‘a’ in ‘china’. The word is pronounced ‘CAT-e-wall’ with the stress on the first syllable. According to one theory, the word comes from the German ‘katerwaulen’ meaning ‘to cry like a cat’.

The word can be used with both animals and human beings. When you caterwaul, you shriek loudly like a cat that is in distress — it is a very unpleasant sound. In everyday contexts, the word can also be used to mean to complain about something rather loudly.

I’ve stopped watching the news on TV. I’m sick and tired of listening to the constant caterwauling of our politicians.

Is there such a word as ‘backfriend’? (BL Laxman, Chennai)

My initial reaction was to say ‘no’, but a few dictionaries do list the word. Those that do, label it ‘archaic’. The word is no longer in use. In the past, ‘backfriend’ was used to refer to someone who pretended to be your friend, but who was in fact your enemy. He was someone who was secretly working against you.


In Westerns, you were permitted to kiss your horse but never your girl. — Gary Cooper


Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 3:00:26 AM |

Next Story