Know Your English Education

Let’s have a tête-a-tete

Is there a word for someone who never smiles or laughs? (P. Jyothi, Madurai)

Yes, there is! The word that you are looking for is ‘agelast’. It consists of three syllables, and not two as the spelling suggests. The ‘a’ in the first and third, sounds like the ‘a’ in ‘ant’, ‘pant’ and ‘chant’, while the ‘g’ is pronounced like the ‘j’ in ‘jam’, ‘juice’, and ‘jump’. The ‘e’ is like the ‘i’ in ‘bit’, ‘hit’ and ‘kit’. This rather formal word is pronounced ‘A-ji-last’ with the stress on the first syllable. It comes the Greek ‘agelostos’ meaning ‘not laughing, gloomy’. When you refer to a person as being an ‘agelast’, what you are suggesting is that he is someone who doesn’t smile; he has absolutely no sense of humour.

He tried telling jokes to my boss — a confirmed agelast. Not many people will be familiar with this rather formal word. ‘Joyless’, ‘unsmiling’, ‘gloomy’, ‘glum’, are more common than ‘agelast’.

What is the opposite of Eve-teasing? (S.V. Sandeep, Chennai)

When men harass women in public places by making comments about them, we refer to it as Eve-teasing. So, common sense suggests that when the roles are reversed — when women harass a man — it should be called ‘Adam-teasing’. It makes sense, for Adam and Eve always go together! Unfortunately, if you look up ‘Adam-teasing’ in any standard dictionary, you are unlikely to find the term listed. You may have better luck with ‘Eve-teasing’, for many dictionaries do include it. What is of interest, however, is that those that do make it very clear that it is an example of Indian English — that the term is used only in India. It is not found in native varieties of English. ‘Eve teasing’, like the word ‘prepone’, is one of the many words that we Indians have contributed to the English language. Considering the fact that the term ‘Adam-teasing’ is frequently used in the Indian media, chances are, that just like ‘Eve-teasing’, it too will soon find a place in standard English dictionaries – perhaps, in a matter of few years. What we in India call ‘Eve-teasing’ and ‘Adam-teasing’, native speakers of English usually refer to it as sexual harassment. Some people believe that the term ‘Eve-teasing’ trivialises the seriousness of the problem.

How is the word ‘tete-a-tete’ pronounced? (R. Gayathri, Pune)

Dictionaries list two ways of pronouncing this French expression. Some people make the word ‘tete’ rhyme with ‘late’, ‘hate’ and ‘mate’, while others choose to rhyme it with ‘met’, ‘let’ and ‘set’. The ‘a’ can be pronounced like the ‘a’ in ‘act’ and ‘ant’ or like the ‘a’ in ‘path’ and ‘bath’. The main stress is always on the second ‘tete’— the word is pronounced tete-a-TETE. The expression literally means ‘head-to-head’. When you have a tête-a-tete with someone, you have a face-to-face meeting with the individual. Only two people are involved in this conversation.

It’s about time you had a tête-a-tete with your friend. He’s out of control. I thought it would be a romantic tête-a-tete. But she had invited her parents.


“Wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles.” George Eliot

The writer taught at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad.

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 7:52:53 PM |

Next Story