Know Your English

Know your English — What is the meaning of ‘wet one’s whistle’?

What is the meaning of ‘wet one’s whistle’?

(Anup Giram, Barshi)

This is a relatively old idiom that has been a part of the English language for well over 600 years. The expression is mostly used in informal contexts to mean ‘to have a drink’ or ‘to satisfy one’s thirst’. The drink in question is usually of the strong kind — alcohol. It is also possible to say ‘to wet one’s beak’.

*Every weekend I visit the local pub to wet my whistle.

*At the end of the day, we meet, discuss politics and wet our whistles/beaks.

According to some scholars, the word ‘whistle’ in the idiom refers to ones’ mouth — particularly, the tongue and the throat. If the tongue and throat are dry, then it becomes impossible for an individual to whistle.

What is the difference between ‘haggle’ and ‘bargain’?

(K Ashwini, Mangalore)

When you ‘bargain’ or ‘haggle’ over the price of something with someone, you would like the individual to sell the product to you at a lower or reasonable price. Of the two, the word ‘haggle’ has a negative connotation. It suggests that you are being rather petty and are arguing with the individual in a loud manner. ‘Bargaining’, on the other hand, suggests that it is more of a negotiation than an argument. One can bargain without raising one’s voice.

*I don’t like it when my mother haggles with the vegetable vendors.

*The price is rather steep. Are you willing to bargain?

Is it okay to say ‘to recuse oneself’?

(Mayu Mukund, Bengaluru)

First, let us deal with the pronunciation of ‘recuse’. The first vowel is pronounced like the ‘i’ in ‘hit’, ‘bit’ and ‘sit’, and the following ‘cuse’ sounds like the ‘cuse’ in ‘excuse’. The word, which is mostly used in legal contexts in the United States, is pronounced ‘ri-KYOOZ’ with the stress on the second syllable. It comes from the Latin ‘recusare’ meaning ‘to make an objection against’. When a judge or a member of the jury is recused, he is asked by one of the lawyers not to be involved in the trial. The lawyer objects to the judge’s/juror’s presence because he believes the circumstances are such that the individual is likely to be biased; he is incapable of being impartial. When a judge ‘recuses herself’, she voluntarily excuses herself from a case because of a potential conflict of interest. Perhaps she is a good friend of the person on trial.

*The juror was recused when he said he believed all politicians were crooks.

*The judge recused himself when he came to know who the defendant was.

Which is correct: I wondered/wonder if I could talk to you about it?

(J Shravan, Trichy)

In terms of grammar, both ‘wondered’ and ‘wonder’ are possible. Native speakers of English frequently use verbs like ‘wonder’, ‘hope’, ‘think’, etc., in the simple past to make polite inquiries and requests. The use of the simple past in these cases has nothing to do with past time; they make the question sound less direct. According to books on usage, native speakers consider the use of ‘wondered’ and ‘wanted’ to be much more polite than ‘wonder’ and ‘want’.

*I wonder/wondered if you could help me

*I want/wanted to talk to you about something.


“I distrust camels, and anyone else who can go a week without a drink.”Joe E Lewis

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Printable version | Nov 16, 2020 1:24:02 AM |

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