Let’s paint the town red!

The idea that you can learn English in a day is wildly quixotic!

March 07, 2022 10:30 am | Updated 10:30 am IST

Know your English

Know your English | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

What is the meaning and origin of ‘paint the town red’? (J Nithyashree, Hyderabad)

This is an expression that has been around for several hundred years, and its use is mostly limited to informal contexts. When you tell someone that you are going to paint the town red, you are informing the person that you will be going out with your friends and thoroughly enjoying yourself. The idiom suggests that it is not going to be a quiet celebration, but a pretty loud one. You are likely to be going to various parts of the town, and take part in different activities. You may visit a bar or two, go dancing, sing, etc.

When we won the championship, we went out and painted the town red.

After the exams, most students were out painting the town red.

As for the origin of the idiom, it is shrouded in a bit of mystery. What is interesting to note, however, is that both the English and the Americans claim it is their creation. According to the English, it was the Marquis of Waterford, nicknamed ‘Mad Marquis’, who gave rise to the expression. In 1837, after some heavy drinking in the town of Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, the rich landowner and his friends spent the night painting several buildings red. The Americans, however, believe that ‘paint the town red’ was in use in the States long before this incident. Some scholars argue that it was the Romans who gave us the idiom. Whenever the Roman army captured a town, the soldiers used to smear the doors and windows of houses with the blood of the fallen enemy.

How is the word ‘quixotic’ pronounced? (S Ganeshan, Vizag)

The word consists of three syllables. The first is pronounced like the word ‘quick’, and the second rhymes with ‘hot’, ‘got’ and ‘lot’. The word is pronounced ‘quick-SOT-ic’ with the stress on the second syllable. It is normally used with people who have rather novel ideas; ideas, however, which cannot be implemented. When you say that someone is ‘quixotic’, what you are suggesting is that the individual is an idealist, but the plans he has to save or change the world are impractical — some would say foolishly so. They are all doomed to fail.

The Minister has come up with a quixotic plan to end all forms of corruption.

Jai’s quixotic schemes drove the company to bankruptcy.

Don Quixote is the name of the leading character created by the Spanish writer, Miguel de Cervantes. In the satirical novel, ‘The Adventures of Don Quixote’ written in the early 17th century, Cervantes narrates the story of Quixote, an eccentric idealist who becomes a knight in order to save the world. The ageing hero finds that the lofty goals he has set for himself are impossible to achieve. The novel chronicles the misadventures of the poor hero — every time he attempts to do something, it ends in disaster. In the end, the hero returns to his village, a dejected man.

“Today is the oldest you have been, and the youngest you will ever be. Make the most of it!”

-Nicky Gumbel


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