Know your English Education

Don’t be a stuffed shirt

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“What’s the matter with you? You look extremely tired. Didn’t you sleep last night?”

“I didn’t get any sleep at all. Like most people, I was caught up in the match. Didn’t you watch it? It was really exciting.”

“I think I watched the first 20 minutes. After that, I conked out on the sofa.”

“You conked out on the sofa? Does it mean you fell asleep on the sofa?”

“When you ‘conk out’, you fall asleep quite quickly.”

“Why is that? Is it because you’re tired or exhausted?”

“That’s right! You’re so tired that you fall asleep immediately. You just collapse. After five sets of tennis, I conked out as soon as I got home.”

“My sister was really tired. It wasn’t surprising that she conked out during the lecture.”

“After four hours of trekking, some of the kids conked out even before dinner.”

“But I was always under the impression that ‘conk out’ was usually used with machines. People always talk about machines conking out.”

“You’re absolutely right! When something like a car or a computer stops working suddenly, you normally say that it’s conked out.”

“So, in both cases, something happens suddenly. The person falls asleep unexpectedly and a machine stops working suddenly.”

“Exactly! The bus conked out even before we’d reached Nagpur.”

“We haven’t had power since yesterday. To make matters worse, our inverter conked out this morning.”

“That’s a good example. The TV conked out while I was watching the match.”

“Your TV has conked out? Is that why you didn’t watch the match last night?”

Similar in meaning

“No, my TV is fine. That was just an example. It was so cloudy that I thought that the match would get rained out.”

“So did many people. Tell me, is there a difference between ‘rained out’ and ‘rained off’?”

“In terms of meaning there’s no difference. When you say that a match was rained out or rained off, what you’re suggesting is that it was washed out.”

“In other words, the match had to be cancelled because of the persistent rain.”

“I guess you could say that. ‘Rained out’ is preferred by the Americans, while ‘rained off’ seems to be preferred by the British.”

“The children were disappointed because most of the weekend matches were rained off. Tell me, how’s your project coming along?”

“I finished it a week ago. I need to get feedback from my new boss. It might take some time because he’s a bit of a stuffed shirt.”

“Stuffed shirt? What does it mean?”

“When you refer to someone as being a ‘stuffed shirt’, what you’re suggesting is that the individual is rather old fashioned in his outlook.”

“Old fashioned? It sounds like my grandfather.”

“I don’t think I would call your grandfather a stuffed shirt. The expression also suggests that the person in question is a pompous individual. He is someone who believes that his ideas are extremely important.”

“My grandfather is old-fashioned, but I don’t think he is very formal or takes himself seriously. He’s fun to be around with.”

“In that case, he’s not a stuffed shirt. Remember, the expression is mostly used with men. The new Chief Minister is very different from all the stuffed shirts we’ve had so far.”

“How about this example? I’ve met Ritu’s father a couple of times. He didn’t come across as a stuffed shirt.”

“Sounds good. Now, tell me....”

“No, you tell me. Why stuffed shirt? Where did the expression come from?”

“We’ll talk about it some other time.”

********

A professor is someone who talks in someone else’s sleep. W.H. Auden

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

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 4:06:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/dont-be-a-stuffed-shirt/article29538717.ece

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