‘On’ or ‘in’?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INSIGHT - Co-or­di­nated by JANE F. RAGAVAN

WE usu­ally say “on a jour­ney” but this ad­ver­tise­ment ( pic) – placed last month in a Chi­nese daily by a well­known ho­tel chain – ap­pears dif­fer­ent.

If the copy had said, “Are you on?”, what dif­fer­ence would that have made to the tone of the ad?

What do you think of this novel, im­plied use of the prepo­si­tion? –SM

“This jam­boree is slated for Mon­day week. The ques­tion is, Are we on?” (P.G. Wode­house, Inim­itable Jeeves, 1923)

“ I’m on – if you want to play the equiv­a­lent of Twenty Ques­tions.” (V. Giel­gud, Nec­es­sary End, 1969)

So, the ho­tel ad­ver­tise­ment would make bet­ter sense if it were to say: “Jour­ney to Mag­nif­i­cence. Are you on?” “Are you on?” here would mean: “Are you will­ing to join us in this mag­nif­i­cent jour­ney?”

“Are you in?” on the other hand sounds like a tame ques­tion ask­ing some­one if they’re in their

“Are you on?” would be the ap­pro­pri­ate ex­pres­sion to use in the ad­ver­tise­ment, but not be­cause we say “ on a jour­ney”. “ To­beon” is a col­lo­quial ex­pres­sion mean­ing “to be in favour of, or will­ing to be a party to, some­thing.” (Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary, def­i­ni­tion 13d of “on” as an ad­verb). Here are two of the quo­ta­tions used in the OED def­i­ni­tion: house or room. I fail to see how that can be con­nected with the “Jour­ney to Mag­nif­i­cence.”

d.to­beon: to be in favour of, or will­ing to be a party to, some­thing. col­loq.

Safe driv­ing

WHICH is cor­rect: 1. Drive safely or drive safe? 2. To­ward or to­wards? 3. For­ward or for­wards? 4. Far­ther dis­tance or fur­ther dis­tance? –Balan

1. Nor­mally, we would say or write “drive safely”, be­cause “safe” is an ad­jec­tive and not an ad­verb. But in cam­paigns for safe driv­ing, for in­stance, we can see “Drive Safe” some­times used (where the ad­jec­tive is used as an ad­verb), be­cause it is more catchy than “Drive Safely”. Be­low is an ex­am­ple from a web­page of Bri­tain’s Depart­ment for Trans­port: “DriveSafe,Cy­cleSafe” www2.dft.gov.uk/pgr/road­safety/drs/cy­clin­gand­mo­tor­cy­cling/drivesafe­cy­cle­safe.html

2. “To­ward” is more com­monly used in Amer­i­can English and “to­wards” in Bri­tish English.

3. “For­ward” can be an ad­verb, an ad­jec­tive, a verb or a noun. When used as an ad­verb mean­ing “to­wards a place or po­si­tion that is in front”, Bri­tish English some­times uses “for­wards” (online Ox­ford Ad­vanced Learner’s Dic­tio­nary).

For the dif­fer­ent mean­ings of the word, go to ox­for­dad­vancedlearn­ers­dic­tionary.com/.

4. Where dis­tance is con­cerned, ei­ther “fur- ther” or “far­ther” can be used, with “fur­ther” be­ing more com­mon in Bri­tish English. There are other mean­ings of “fur­ther”, though. “Fur­ther” can be an ad­verb, an ad­jec­tive or a verb, while “far­ther” can only be an ad­verb or an Neme­sis Divine ret­ri­bu­tion.

In Greek mythol­ogy, Neme­sis was a spirit who pun­ished ar­ro­gance, par­tic­u­larly those who had dis­pleased the gods. In some sto­ries Neme­sis also pun­ished peo­ple who had been un­usu­ally lucky.

The Greeks thought it im­pos­si­ble to avoid Neme­sis. Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, su­per lucky King Poly­crates of Samoa tried to ap­pease Neme­sis by throw­ing away a valu­able ring. He chucked the ring into the sea, and found it in the fish he was given for his sup­per. Soon af­ter­wards the king died a grue­some death at the hand of as­sas­sins.

Ex­am­ple: Tim was glad to see his evil boss had fi­nally met his neme­sis. Fate worse than death A hu­mor­ous way to de­scribe a hor­ri­ble ex­pe­ri­ence.

This im­age is rather con­fus­ing be­cause it has changed rad­i­cally over time. It was a pop­u­lar eu­phemism for rape from the 1600s on­wards. In Vic­to­rian times the phrase was very pop­u­lar in ro­mances and in ad­ven­ture sto­ries where swoon­ing hero­ines were carted off by vil­lains.

To­day the phrase is used only in a jok­ing way; such as bach­e­lors talk­ing about mar­riage, and man­agers fear­ing pro­mo­tion to a re­ally dread­ful city. How­ever, you will still come across the tra­di­tional mean­ing, es­pe­cially if you love clas­sic tales.

Ex­am­ple: Ho­race is so lazy that he sees pro­mo­tion as a fate worse than death. To seal some­one’s fate To be doomed to some­thing un­pleas­ant. ad­jec­tive. For more de­tails, see the above dic­tio­nary, and also the online Mer­riam-Web­ster dic­tio­nary, which is Amer­i­can. Make sure to read their us­age notes care­fully.


In the 1760s peo­ple talked of fix­ing fate. This changed in the early 1800s. Some sug­gest that the seal re­ferred to is the wax stamp that is added to the bot­tom of an ex­e­cu­tion war­rant. With­out the seal, the war­rant wasn’t com­plete.

Re­lated phrases that come from seals and seal­ing wax in­clude to seal your lips, mean­ing to keep silent, and seal of ap­proval, mean­ing an award or some­thing of a su­pe­rior stan­dard.

Ex­am­ple: If the ref­eree sends him off, the team’s fate is sealed. Day of reck­on­ing A time of judg­ment; a point where you have to face the con­se­quences of your ac­tions.

This im­age comes from the Bi­ble, par­tic­u­larly the Gospel of Matthew that dis­cusses the end of the world, when God will judge ev­ery­one.

English the­olo­gians used the phrase when they wrote to each other in the late 1380s, but the gen­eral pub­lic only be­gan us­ing it in the 1500s, when the first English lan­guage Bi­bles be­came com­mon.

To­day the im­age is no longer used solely in re­li­gious con­texts. It can ap­ply to any time when you are called to ac­count. Fun­nily enough, it al­ways im­plies a sense of dread or bad news. Reck­on­ings are never pleas­ant!

Ex­am­ple: When the fi­nan­cial ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer comes back from hol­i­day, there will be a day of reck­on­ing. A bul­let that has your name on it The idea that if you are shot, it’s be­cause des­tiny has de­cided it is your time to be shot.

Ap­par­ently this pop­u­lar proverb was coined by King Wil­liam III, who ruled Eng­land from 1689 un­til 1702. The king was wont to say ev­ery bul­let has it’s bil­let, mean­ing ev­ery bul­let has its home. How­ever, the ba­sic mes­sage is the same.

Writ­ing some­one’s name on a bul­let is also a pop­u­lar threat. This cus­tom comes from sym­pa­thetic magic where carv­ing some­one’s name into a can­dle or a tree helps “link” that per­son to the ob­ject. How­ever, there is no sci­en­tific ev­i­dence that scrib­bling names on bul­lets helps them find their tar­get.

Ex­am­ple: Bill fol­lowed pro­to­col but that bul­let had his name on it. Your num­ber is up To be doomed. Of­ten used in the sense that you are fated to die.

Lady Caro­line Lamb was the first to use this phrase in a let­ter to her par­ents writ­ten in 1804. She used the im­age in the sense of a lot­tery, where ev­ery ticket is pre­de­ter­mined by fate to be a win­ner or loser.

How­ever, the phrase was swiftly taken up by mil­i­tary per­son­nel who were is­sued a per­sonal se­rial num­ber upon join­ing up.

Ex­am­ple: Harry re­alised his wife had dis­cov­ered his aw­ful se­cret, and knew his num­ber was up.

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