Know your English Education

Get your act together

“Are you all set for next week’s trekking trip? You must be really…”

“I’m not really sure if we’ll be going. Two of my friends dropped out when they came to know they would be spending all four days outdoors, and that there would be no hot water for their bath.”

“I know, it gets really cold over there. But tell your friends, if they wish to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, they need to cowboy up. They need to…”

“Cowboy up? I’ve never heard that expression before. What does it mean?”

“It’s slang, which is mostly used in informal contexts. When you tell someone to cowboy up, you’re asking him to toughen up.”

“In other words, be tough like a cowboy.”

“I guess you could say that. You want the person to be a man, and try his best to overcome any obstacle that may come his way.”

“So, if you are constantly complaining about something, can I tell you to cowboy up?”

“You certainly can. That would be your way of saying, ‘Stop whining and do your job’! Here’s another example. In the movie that I saw yesterday, a retired police officer cowboys up to track down a serial killer.”

“When my friend complained about online classes, I told her if she wished to graduate this semester, she needed to cowboy up, and do the best she could.”

“Since your friend is a girl, it would be more appropriate to say, ‘cowgirl up’!”

Building anticipation

“Really! That’s interesting! Tell me, how is the word w…h...e…t pronounced?”

“One simple way is to pronounce it like the word ‘wet’. Any idea what it means?”

“Not a clue. I’ve heard people talking about whetting their appetite.”

“Whet literally means to sharpen. In the past, people sharpened their knives and swords by rubbing them against a stone. This process was called ‘whetting’, and the stone which was used to sharpen the knife was called a ‘whetstone’.”

“I see. Is it okay to say, I spent the morning helping my father whet an old knife?”

“Yes, it’s a possible sentence. But I seriously doubt if your father would ever ask you to whet a knife. Nowadays, the word ‘whet’ is mostly used in the expression ‘whet one’s appetite’.”

“I see. Does it mean to sharpen or increase one’s appetite for something?”

“Very good! All those ads that are broadcast before the IPL season begins are meant to whet our appetite.”

“In other words, they are meant to increase our interest in the game of cricket.”

“Exactly! Here’s another one. I don’t ….”

“Let me. The starters that Uma ordered whet our appetite for the main course.”

“That’s a good example. It’s also possible to talk about whet one’s curiosity, pleasure, and so on.”

“I see. I saw the trailer of my favourite director’s latest horror movie yesterday. It has really whet my curiosity.”

“No horror movies for me, please. Life in this pandemic is horrible enough.”


“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

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Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 1:25:11 PM |

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