Hit­ting the tar­get

The many uses of the word ‘hit’.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIFESTYLE - By NITHYA SIDHHU

WHEN my neigh­bour’s son, Woon, has some free time, he likes to come over to my house to watch the MTV chan­nel on TV. His mother does not sub­scribe to Astro. She thinks that if she does so, her chil­dren will be less fo­cused on their stud­ies.

Woon loves to watch MTV Hits, a pro­gramme which fea­tures the lat­est songs favoured by teens the world over.

As a 13-year-old boy who at­tended a Chi­nese ver­nac­u­lar school un­til Year Six, Woon finds English chal­leng­ing. He likes learn­ing from me the new uses for English words. Re­cently, he asked me: “When some­one says a par­tic­u­lar song is a ‘hit’, do they mean the song is very pop­u­lar?” “Yes,” I told him. “Then, what does it mean when my teacher keeps telling us to ‘ hit the books’? I find that term con­fus­ing. Isn’t ‘hit’ a word we use to de­scribe an ac­tion of us­ing force to beat or strike some­thing? I un­der­stand what my mother means when she says ‘don’t hit your sis­ter’ or when my brother says ‘ hit the ball’ with my ping pong bat but why does my Sci­ence teacher ask me to hit my books? It feels weird.”

I ex­plained to him: “‘To hit the books’ sim­ply means ‘to study hard’.”

“Oh, I get that now. But what about when she says, “You must hit the nail on the head?” I asked Woon: “When did she say that?” “She was giv­ing us tips on how to an­swer some struc­tured ques­tions. She told us that we won’t get any marks if we do not hit the nail on the head. Does she mean we will lose marks if we state the wrong an­swer?”

“Yes,” I ex­plained. “That’s what she meant. To hit the nail on the head is to be very ac­cu­rate and state the truth. For the struc­tured ques­tions she’s talk­ing about, you must give the ex­act an­swer. Imag­ine if you have a real nail and a ham­mer, and you don’t hit the nail right on the head, the nail won’t go in, right? In the same way, if you don’t hit the nail on the head with the an­swer you choose to give, this means your an­swer is wrong and you won’t get any marks for it.”

Woon was quick to re­mem­ber some other ex­pres­sions his Sci­ence teacher had used. “She also scolded us re­cently when we were fool­ing about in the lab­o­ra­tory. She said: ‘I don’t want you to carry out any hit-and-miss ex­per­i­ments. Record all your ob­ser­va­tions ac­cu­rately.”

I chal­lenged Woon: “Why don’t you try to guess what she meant by that?”

“I guess she wanted us to be care­ful and do our ex­per­i­ments se­ri­ously. Oth­er­wise, we would sort of ‘miss’ the whole point of do­ing the ex­per­i­ment. Am I right?”

I had to laugh. “That’s ex­actly what it means. It’s like when you play darts, and try to hit the bull’s-eye (tar­get), then miss it, you know what that feels like, right?”

“Yes, I know what you mean. You try but you do not suc­ceed. Like when I call out to a pretty girl but she just walks past and ig­nores me. ” We both laughed.

“It looks like you and I re­ally hit it off. Can you tell me what I mean by that?” I asked.

He thought hard, then replied: “Does it mean we play well to­gether? Oh, but that’s silly. Could it be ... that we get along?”

“Yes, you’re right. Now, tell me, do you and your mother hit it off at home?” Woon shrugged his shoul­ders. “Some­times. I think I hit it off bet­ter with my fa­ther. He’s more un­der­stand­ing. My mother nags a lot.”

“Talk­ing about your mother,” I asked, “does she hit the roof of­ten?”

“What!?” I laughed. “To hit the roof means to be­come very an­gry in a mat­ter of min­utes.”

“Oh, yes,” said Woon ex­cit­edly. “Just yes­ter­day, she was mad at me be­cause she thought I had not gone for my tu­ition class. The truth was, I had a club meet­ing at school and had for­got­ten to in­form her.”

“So how did she hit out at you? With words or with a cane? “What do you mean?” asked Woon . “Well, when we hit out at some­one, it means we at­tack them with words or blows.”

“Oh, she was mad. She scolded me for be­ing so ir­re­spon­si­ble. She nags a lot but she doesn’t hit me. It’s my brother who will hit me ev­ery now and then. But it’s all right. I hit him right back! ”

I had to laugh at Woon’s hon­esty. “OK,” I said “It’s al­most six now. I think it’s time you went home. We don’t want your mother to hit the roof again, do we? By the way, here’s one last ques­tion for you – what time do you nor­mally hit the sack ev­ery night?”

“Hit the sack? What is this – kungfu? Wrestling?”

I laughed. “No, Woon, to hit the sack means ‘ to go to bed’.

“English is so com­pli­cated,” said Woon. “Any­way, I hit the sack at 10pm ev­ery night. OK, bye, teacher, I’m go­ing home now.” “Yes, Woon. It’s time you hit the road.” “ Hit the road? Wait, let me guess. Does it mean to go home?”

I laughed. “It means to go on a jour­ney. Yours is to go home. ”

Af­ter he left, I lis­tened to a few more hit songs on TV be­fore I went to the kitchen to heat up some leftover soup for my­self.

If you’re read­ing this, be care­ful not to con­fuse the word “hit” with the word “heat”. To “heat” some­thing is to warm it up or make it hot. But the word “hit” has some­thing to do with ac­tion, force or be­hav­iour.

For in­stance, a man who hits the bot­tle reg­u­larly is a man who likes al­co­holic drinks and may get drunk. When he goes home, he may get into a heated ar­gu­ment (a noisy quar­rel) with his wife, par­tic­u­larly if she is a hot­tem­pered woman who hits the roof (gets an­gry) eas­ily. See the dif­fer­ence?

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