Know Your English

Know your English — meaning and origin of A1

What is the difference between ‘pillow talk’ and ‘small talk’?

(R Madan, Bhopal)

‘Small talk’ or ‘idle talk’ refers to the polite conversation you have with someone whom you may or may not know very well. The conversation usually revolves around topics that are neutral; nothing that is likely to make either party angry. A person usually indulges in small talk when he meets someone for the first time. ‘Pillow talk’, on the other hand, is the conversation that one has with one’s spouse or significant other. Since the conversation, in this case, usually takes place when the two individuals are in bed, it tends to be intimate or personal.

*Bala is not very good at making small talk.

*There is no pillow talk. He falls asleep the moment his head hits the pillow.

What is the meaning and origin of A1?

(K Sankaranaryanan, Madurai)

This rather informal expression has been around for over 200 years. When you say that something is ‘A1/A one’, you mean that it is excellent or first rate. The expression can be used with people as well.

*The car is over ten years old, but the engine is in A1 condition.

*As a teacher, Aishwarya is A1.

Lloyd’s, a British company that insured ships, coined the term. Before any ship was insured, the company inspected it and then rated it. The letters A, E, I, O and U were used to indicate the condition of the hull of the ship, and the numbers 1, 2, 3, etc. were used to indicate the state of the equipment (cables, anchor, etc.) on board. If the ship was rated A1, it meant that both the hull and the equipment were in excellent condition.

Is there a connection between ‘wit’ and ‘half wit’?

(R Revathi, Chennai)

Yes, there is. The term ‘half-wit’ is used nowadays in informal contexts to refer to someone who is rather foolish or stupid.

*The company has hired a bunch of half-wits.

*I’m not going to let you marry a half-wit like Ravi.

A ‘wit’, on the other hand, is someone who has the gift of the gab; he keeps the listener amused by his skilful play on words.

*Chalapathi, a notable wit, died in a car accident last night.

The term ‘half-wit’ was originally used to refer to a writer of mediocre wit; he was a ‘dealer of poor witticisms’. A ‘half-wit’ failed in his attempt to be funny half the time!

How is word ‘zenith’ pronounced?

(R Kulkarni, Pune)

There are two different ways of pronouncing this word. Some people pronounce the ‘e’ like the ‘e’ in ‘set’, ‘bet’ and ‘pet’, while others pronounce it like the ‘ee’ in ‘fees’, ‘bees’ and ‘knees’. The final vowel sounds like the ‘i’ in ‘pit’, ‘kit’ and ‘hit’. The word can be pronounced ‘ZEN-ith’ or ‘ZEE-nith’. It comes from the world of astronomy, and it was originally used to refer to the highest point reached by a celestial object — like a star, for instance. Nowadays, the object can be anything — a ball, a missile, a rocket, etc. The highpoint or the most successful phase of one’s life can also be called ‘zenith’.

*Nandu’s career reached its zenith when he was just thirty.

*The missile exploded much before it reached its zenith.


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Printable version | Jan 15, 2021 12:41:16 AM |

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