Know your English Education

Not a pleasant experience

What is the difference between ‘vomit’ and ‘retch’? (K. Harish, Madurai)

I am sure that all of us have experienced both sometime or the other. Neither is a pleasant experience. When you ‘vomit’, you actually throw up. In other words, you eject, usually rather forcefully, the contents of your stomach through the mouth — making all kinds of strange sounds while you are doing so.

After a night of binge drinking, Akash spent the morning vomiting.

The sight of all the blood made the policeman vomit.

Just like ‘throw up’, it is also possible to say, ‘vomit (something) up’.

By early morning, the sea had turned rough. Poor Radha vomited her breakfast up.

The dog vomited up the sandwich he’d found on the street.

The word ‘retch’ rhymes with the words, ‘sketch’ and ‘fetch’. Retching is very similar to vomiting; you exhibit the same physical reaction as when you are vomiting. Your stomach begins to feel funny, and you begin to make the kinds of sounds that you normally make when you are about to throw up. Physically, there is every indication that you are going to vomit, but nothing actually comes out of your mouth. When you walk into a public bathroom, the foul smell can sometimes make you retch — you come very close to vomiting but, somehow, you manage not to. People also retch when they are forced to eat something that they do not like. The word comes from Old English ‘hracan’, and the original meaning was ‘to clear one’s throat’ or ‘spit’.

The smell of stale vomit made Jasmine retch.

How can I become a doctor when the sight of blood makes me retch?

How is the word ‘facetious’ pronounced? (D. Malini, Chennai)

The word consists of three syllables. The ‘a’ in the first and the ‘ou’ in the final are pronounced like the ‘a’ in ‘china’. The ‘ce’ in the second syllable is pronounced like the word ‘see’, and the following ‘ti’ sounds like the ‘sh’ in ‘ship’ and ‘shoe’. The word is pronounced ‘fe-SEE-shes’, with the stress on the second syllable. It comes from the Latin “facetus” meaning “witty”. In English, the word is mostly used to show disapproval. A facetious individual, in his desire to be witty, ends up making people angry or annoyed by his silly or inappropriate comments about a serious matter.

I’m in no mood to listen to your facetious remarks.

You cannot afford to sound facetious during an interview.

Is it okay to say, ‘The man was shot to death’? (R.S. Sridhar, Nellore)

While it is becoming increasingly common to hear even native speakers of English utter such a sentence, careful users of the language would seriously object to it. They would argue that one doesn’t usually shoot someone to death, one merely shoots someone dead. In their opinion, the correct sentence would be,

‘The man was shot dead’.

The police shot dead the three escaped convicts.


“To write a diary every day is like returning to one’s own vomit.” Enoch Powell

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

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2021 11:17:24 PM |

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