Education

Playing truant isn’t always fun

“Tell me, how do you pronounce t..r..u..a..n..t? Does the first syllable sound like ‘true’?”

“That’s right! The t..r..u is pronounced like the word ‘true’, and the following ‘a’ is like the ‘a’ in ‘china’. The word is pronounced ‘TRUE-ent’ with the stress on the first syllable. It comes from the Old French ‘truant’ meaning ‘beggar’.”

“I see. So, can I refer to beggars as truants?”

“No, you can’t. Nowadays, ‘truant’ is mostly used to refer to children — especially those who stay away from school without permission.”

“Like my friend who tells his parents he’s off to school, and goes to the movies instead.”

“Exactly! According to the police, many petty crimes were committed by truants.”

“In the article that I’m reading, the writer uses the expression ‘play truant’. What does...”

“When a child plays truant, he stays away from school for no valid reason — without the permission of his parents or the school authorities. I’m told that my genius cousin used to play truant when he was a kid.”

“The only time I played truant, the teacher gave a surprise test. I ended up getting a zero.”

“Tough luck! Heard your grandfather arrived this morning. How’s he doing?”

“He’s his usual jolly self. As soon as he arrived, he asked me to go to his favourite ‘sweetmeat’ shop and get him some pedas. Tell me, why does he call it ‘sweetmeat’?”

“In the past, native speakers of English used to refer to any sweet as ‘sweetmeat’.”

“But why? Did all sweets have bits of meat in them or something?”

“No, that’s not the reason. You see, the word ‘meat’ actually comes from the Old English ‘mete’. The original meaning of this word was ‘food’. So any item of food that tasted sweet was called ‘sweetmeat’ — meaning ‘sweet food’.”

“I see. So, candies and toffees were called sweetmeat’?”

“Not just candies. Even a piece of fruit dipped in syrup or coated with sugar was called ‘sweetmeat’. With the passage of time, however, the meaning of ‘meat’ changed.”

“Nowadays, the word is usually used to refer to the flesh of an animal.”

“But the old meaning of ‘meat’ meaning ‘food’ is still retained in some words. For example, we have ‘mincemeat’, nutmeat’...”

“I’m a vegetarian, so no meat, please. Tell me, what happened yesterday? Did you manage to beat your friend in...”

“No chance of that happening. He plays tennis like a dream.”

Dream game

“Plays like a dream? How can anyone play tennis like a dream?”

“When you say that someone does something like a dream, what you’re suggesting is that the person does it extremely well — without any problems. For example, Virat batted like a dream yesterday.”

“He did, didn’t he? My mother tells me that her grandmother cooked like a dream.”

“This informal expression can be used with things as well. Why would I want to sell my old motorcycle? It still runs like a dream.”

“Meaning, that your motorcycle still runs very well.”

“Exactly! Jayanthi convinced everyone on the Board that her plan would work like a dream. When it didn’t, she was immediately fired.”

“Another example of a dream turning into a nightmare, I guess.”

* * * * *

Forget love — I’d rather fall in chocolate! Sandra J Dykes

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

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 5:55:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/playing-truant-isnt-always-fun/article19895322.ece

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