Know Your English Education

Air headed?

What is the difference between ‘mock’ and ‘tease’? (M Anuradha, Warrangal)

‘Tease’ is the more general of the two words. When you ‘tease’ someone, what you are trying to do is to have fun at the other person’s expense. You may say or do something in order to annoy him. For example, we usually tease a friend about his terrible haircut or about his terrible dress sense. We are having harmless fun at the other person’s expense — it is quite possible that both the teaser and the person being teased enjoy the experience. The word can also be used to suggest that you are deliberately saying things in order to hurt the feelings of the other person. The word ‘mock’ is mostly limited to formal contexts, and the use of the word suggests that the intent in this case is to laugh at and not laugh with the other individual. In this case, you say or do things in order to show your contempt for the person — the intent is to ridicule the individual. Unlike ‘tease’, one can mock an individual by imitating him/her.

Shalini is very sensitive. Please don’t even think about teasing her.

No one was amused when Rishi mocked the Principal’s stutter.

How is the word ‘chic’ pronounced? (K Rajendran, Kochi)

The ‘ch’ sounds like the ‘sh’ in ‘sheet’, ‘ship’ and ‘sharp’, and the following ‘ic’ is like the ‘eek’ in ‘cheek’, ‘peek’ and ‘seek’. This word of French origin is pronounced ‘SHEEK’. ‘Chic’ can be used both as a noun and an adjective. When you say that someone is ‘chic’, what you are suggesting is that the person is very stylish; he/she is elegantly fashionable. One can talk about someone’s clothes being chic or about someone’s shoes being ‘chic’. The word suggests that the item in question is expensive.

The Mathurs have bought a chic apartment in Malabar Hills.

I just love your new glasses. They look so chic.

Is it okay to call someone a ‘blockhead’? (S. Badrinath, Chennai)

If the person in question is very stupid, then you certainly can. Should you call the person a blockhead to his face...well, I leave that to you. The word is mostly limited to informal contexts; though many people consider it to be rather old fashioned, it continues to be used even today — other words that have more or less the same meaning are ‘dunce’, ‘knucklehead’ and ‘bonehead’.

Sushma is marrying Kedar? What does that girl see in that blockhead?

Keep the language simple. I want to make sure that the blockheads in the Sales

Department can make sense of the document.

The word has an interesting origin. In the old days in Europe, it was common practice for both men and women to wear wigs — whether you had hair or not, it was fashionable to sport a wig. Rich people, of course, had many wigs. At night-time, the wig was placed on a block of wood that was shaped like the wig wearer’s head — this was to ensure that the wig did not lose its shape. This block of wood was called a ‘blockhead’. With the passage of time, the word began to mean someone who had nothing inside his head — just like the original blockhead.


“Scientists say that the world is made of protons, neutrons and electrons. They forgot to mention morons.” Unknown

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

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Printable version | Mar 21, 2020 7:31:06 PM |

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