No brickbats here!

Practise your English continually to become a master of the language!

February 21, 2022 10:30 am | Updated 10:30 am IST

Know your English

Know your English | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

What is the difference between ‘continually’ and ‘continuously’? (C Kaveri, Chennai)

The two words have slightly different meanings. When you say that you have been working continuously on your assignment, what you are suggesting is that you have been working on it non-stop. You have not taken time off to do something else in between. You have spent all your time doing the assignment. It was uninterrupted work. Similarly, when you say that it has been raining continuously since six o’clock, what you are suggesting is that it started raining at six, and it is still raining. There was no period in between when it did not rain. It has been raining non-stop since six o’clock in the morning.

Raj swam continuously for three hours. He has amazing stamina.

The generator has been running continuously since yesterday.

When you say that you have been working on your assignment ‘continually’ all day, what you are suggesting is that you have worked on your assignment most of the day — but, there were periods during the day when you were doing something else. Perhaps you watched a bit of television or went to the gym to work out. You didn’t spend all your time on the assignment. Continually means ‘with interruption’. When you say, ‘It rained continually all night’, what you mean is that there were periods when it did not rain.

What is the meaning and origin of ‘brickbat’? (Praveen Kumar, Ongole)

Common sense suggests that a ‘brickbat’ should mean a bat made of brick! Unfortunately, that is not what the word means. The word ‘bat’, in this context, does not refer to the wooden implement one plays cricket or table tennis with. During the early 16th century, ‘bat’ had several different meanings. One of them was ‘lump’ or ‘piece of’. The original meaning of ‘brickbat’, therefore, was a ‘lump/piece of brick’ which could be used as a missile. In the past, protestors used to come armed with brickbats, and when things became violent, they used to throw them at the police, etc. Soon, the word took on a wider meaning— from a lump of brick, it began to include other hard objects which could be hurled or thrown — for example, stones. Even today, many people come equipped with brickbats whenever there is a protest rally. With the passage of time, the word began to include insults as well. Insults and other forms of criticism, like bricks and stones, can be hurled at people. When you hurl brickbats at someone, what you are doing is criticising the person; you do not hold back — you are very blunt.

The crowd booed and soon started pelting brickbats at the police.

My mother-in-law has been hurling brickbats at me for several years now.

Is it okay to say, ‘The young couple wanted to dispose all their old clothes? (V Jayaraman, Trichy)

No, it is not. The word ‘dispose’ is usually followed by ‘of’; one always ‘disposes of’ something. Some people tend to write ‘dispose off’. This, however, is wrong. One does not ‘dispose off’ something.

Harish is planning to dispose of his old scooter.

How does one dispose of all this toxic material?

“Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.”

-Daniel J Boorstin

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