Know Your English Education

Cut off from the rest

How is the word ‘incommunicado’ pronounced? (K. Narender, Pune)

The ‘i’ in the first and fourth syllable is pronounced like the ‘i’ in ‘bit’, ‘kit’ and ‘sit’. The ‘o’ in the second is like the ‘a’ in ‘china’, and the following ‘mu’ sounds like the ‘mu’ in ‘music’ and ‘mute’. The ‘ca’ is pronounced like the ‘ca’ in ‘car’, ‘cart’ and ‘calm’, and the final ‘do’ rhymes with ‘so’, ‘go’ and ‘no’. The word is pronounced ‘in-ke-myoo-ni-KAA-do’ with the stress on the fifth syllable. It comes from the Spanish ‘incomunicar’ meaning ‘deprive of communication’. When you remain ‘incommunicado’, you do not stay in contact with anyone; you cut off all forms of communication with others. This could be because you yourself have chosen not to stay in touch with others or it could be because someone or something is preventing you from making contact. When a suspected terrorist is arrested, he is usually held incommunicado. The police make sure that he does not make phone calls or talk to others.

During the week-long break, Sandeep didn’t answer the phone. He remained incommunicado.

The terrorists were held incommunicado for over three months in an Army prison.

What is the meaning of ‘drop-dead gorgeous’? (R Vidya Shankar, Chennai)

The expression ‘drop-dead’ is usually used before adjectives in informal contexts to emphasise a particular quality. For example, when you say that someone is ‘drop-dead gorgeous’, what you are suggesting is that the person is extremely or amazingly attractive; she is absolutely stunning. Your heart starts pounding so fast when you see her, you nearly collapse.

Even without her make-up, the ageing superstar looked drop-dead gorgeous.

For the reception, the bride wore a saree that was drop-dead gorgeous.

What is the difference between ‘skirmish’ and ‘fight’? (Ravi Kumar, Mysore)

First, let us deal with the pronunciation of ‘skirmish’. The first syllable is pronounced like the ‘skir’ in ‘skirt’, and the second rhymes with ‘dish’ and ‘fish’. The word is pronounced ‘SKER-mish’ with the stress on the first syllable. A ‘skirmish’ is a minor fight lasting for a short period. This fight could be either physical or verbal — it could be an argument between two people about something. The word is frequently used by the military to refer to a fight that occurs between small groups of enemy soldiers, the fight itself is not serious, and it usually takes place far away from the main scene of action.

No one was injured in the skirmish that ensued between the police and the students.

There was a short skirmish between the couple about which restaurant they should go to.

Is it okay to say, ‘The troops invaded the enemy’? (D Vrinda, Erode)

No, it is not. One can invade a country or a place, but not a person. Of course, one can invade a person’s ‘privacy’, but not the individual himself/herself. When you ‘invade’ a country, you go there in large numbers in order to capture it. When you ‘invade’ someone’s property, you enter it illegally, usually in large numbers, in order to damage it. In the case of the sentence you have given, ‘attack’ would a better word to use. The troops attacked the enemy.

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“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” Mark Twain

The writer teaches at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. upendrankye@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 10:24:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/cut-off-from-the-rest/article29118363.ece

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