The Hindu (Mumbai)

Know your English

- K. Subrahmani­an

“Mr. Gurudath Pai Kulyadi, Canara Bank, Mangalore, wants to know which is correct: (a) dispose of (b) dispose off.”

“It is ‘dispose of’; you dispose of something. To dispose of means ‘to get rid of something that one does not want or keep.’

He wants to dispose of his furniture.

All his paintings have been disposed of.

‘Dispose off’ is frequently seen in newspapers and magazines in India, even in judgments and learned articles. Also, ‘wash one’s hands of something,’ not ‘wash one’s hands off something.’”

“Ms. S. Samyuktha, Jayanagar, Bangalore, wants to know how the terms ‘cobrother’ and ‘cosister’ originated.”

“Indian languages are rich in kinship terms. We have a word for the maternal uncle, another for the paternal uncle. We have a word for the wife’s sister’s husband and another for the husband’s brother’s wife. ‘Cobrother’ and ‘cosister’ were coined by us to stress special relationsh­ip. ‘Cobrother’ is wife’s sister’s husband and ‘cosister’ is husband’s brother’s wife. These words do not exist in English as such relationsh­ips are not as significan­t for the British as they are for us. If there is a distinct kinship term in a language, the relationsh­ip is significan­t in that culture. In English, a cobrother is a brotherinl­aw and a cosister is a sisterinla­w. ‘Brotherinl­aw’ and ‘sisterinla­w’ cover several relationsh­ips in English. We coined ‘cobrother’ and ‘cosister’ to specify a special relationsh­ip. They are not used either in British English or American English. But they have become part of Indian English.”

“Mr. I. S. Sachdeva wants to know the meaning of the proverb ‘Money will make the mare go.’”

“It means that you can accomplish anything if you have money. Nothing is impossible if you have money. This proverb is from a song which runs thus:

Will you lend me your mare to go a mile?”

“No, she is lame leaping over a stile.” “But if you will her to me spare, you shall have money for your mare.”

“Oh, ho, say you so?

Money will make the mare to go.”

“Mr. P. V. Srinivasan, retired scientist, CLRI, Madras, wants to know the meaning of ‘leap year.’”

“A leap year is a year of 366 days. In a leap year, February has 29 days. There is a leap of one day in that year. It occurs once in four years.”

“Mr. A. Jayaraman, Railway Qrs., Secunderab­ad, wants to know the meaning of ‘mealymouth­ed person.’”

“A mealymouth­ed person is one ‘who is unwilling to speak plainly or directly, especially when this may offend’; he is afraid to assert himself.

She will not tell you what she feels about the situation. She is mealy-mouthed.

One of the meanings of ‘meal’ is ‘coarsely ground grain.’ Coarsely ground grain is dry and soft and lacks in form and grit. Hence ‘mealymouth­ed’ means soft, yielding, not firm.”

Published in The Hindu on May 14, 1991.

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