Showing posts with label know your English. Show all posts
Showing posts with label know your English. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Rule of Thumb – Procedure or Practice

Rule of Thumb
Rule of Thumb is a procedure or practice which had been developed from experience and common understanding but it had nothing to do with technical or scientific knowledge. It had first been used in 1962 in English and the expression relates to the making of rough estimates of measurement with the use of the thumb, i.e. the distance to the first knuckle which was about an inch.

The origin of the phrase is not known and the earliest knowledge comes from J. Durham’s `Heaven upon Earth’, 1685, wherein he states `Many profess Christian are like foolish builder who build by guess and with the rule of thumb’.

The phrase also existed in various other languages and the plural form is rules of thumb. The phrase is presumed to have been originated with carpenters who utilised the width of their thumbs rather than rulers as a means of measurement for things, cementing its modern use though not precise, but reliable and convenient standards.

The rule of thumb as a unit of measure tends to appear also in Dutch where the word for thumb – duim also means inch and the use of a single word for inch and thumb seems to be common in many Indo European languages. Some examples are: in French: puce inch/thumb, Spanish: pulgada inch, pulgar thumb, Italian: pollice inch/thumb, Portuguese: polegada inch, polegar thumb: Swedish: tum inch, tumme thumb, Sanskrit: angulam inch, anguli finger etc.

Origin derived from Measurement 

Another possibility on the originof the phrase is derived from measurement especially in agricultural fields where the plant is in need of a precise depth to plant the seed properly and whether planted from seed or replanted, the depth was at times estimated with the use of the thumb, which was the rule of the thumb for measurement.

 As per Gary Martin, he states that `the origin of the phrase remain unknown and it is likely that it refers to one of the numerous ways that thumbs have been used to estimate things, judging the alignment of distance of an object by holding the thumb in one’s eye-line, the temperature of brew, measurement of an inch from the joint to the nail to the tip or across the thumb etc.’

He further adds that the phrase joins the whole nine yards as one that probably derives from some form of measurement but which is unlikely ever to be definitively pinned down’.

Financial Rule of Thumb

Yet another version on the phrase `rule of thumb’, is that the coarseness of flour ground, produced by grist mills in Old England, would be assessed when rubbed between the thumb and forefinger by the miller.

The rule of thumb typically developed out of practice and experience instead of the scientific theory or research and investors may find it familiar with a number of financial rules of thumb which may be intended, enabling them to learn, remember whereby they can apply financial guideline inclusive of those that address procedures and methods enabling them to save and invest which would be helpful for retirement.

Though the rule of thumb could be appropriate for a wide audience, it may not be applicable universally to all individuals and unique set of circumstances.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Whole Nine Yards – A Colloquial American Phrase

The phrase `The whole nine yards’, is a colloquial American phrase which means `everything, the whole lot’, or `all the way’, when used as an adjective. The origin of the phrase is unknown but it has been described as the most prominent etymological riddle of our time. The earliest example ever known with regards to this phrase is from The Mitchell Commercial newspaper in 1907 in a small town of Mitchell, southern Indiana where the expression of the whole six yards is related and used around the same time in Kentucky and South Carolina.

These phrases are variation on the whole ball of wax recorded in the 1880s and were part of a family of expression, where odd sounding item like enchilada, shebang, shooting match or hog was substituted for ball of wax. The number nine option may be related to the expression `to the nines’ – to perfection. Introduction of the phrase to a national audience was done by Elaine Shepard in the Vietnam War navel – The Doom Pussy in 1967 and the use of the phrase become very popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Interest in the phrase’s etymology is attributed to William Safire, New York Time language columnist, who wrote elaborately on this phrase.

Phrase Added to Oxford English Dictionary

Nine Yard Ammuniation
In 1982, William Safire checked with listeners for information on Larry King’s radio show with regards to the origin of the phrase and ended up writing around nine columns pertaining to the subject which is largely responsible for the interest of the content in it. Towards 1986, the phrase was then added to the Oxford English Dictionary together with the earliest citation given as 1970. Various key discoveries for further antedating thephrase had been undertaken by Bonnie Taylor Blake who was a neuroscience researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was an amateur member of the American Dialect society, which was an association of professional and amateur linguists and whose mailing list served as forum for word and phrase discoveries. Taylor Blake in 2012 discovered the 1956 and 1957 uses in Kentucky Happy Hunting Ground and later that same year, she together with Fred R. Shapira found the whole six yards examples during the period 1921 – 1921and received good publicity. Towards 2013, Taylor Blake then posted her discovery of the Mitchell Commercial uses from the period of 1907 – 1914.

The Phrase – A Synonym for Stuff

Nine Yards Saree
The phrase cropped up in several contexts since there were many things which could be measured in square, linear, or cubic yards besides yard-arms, steelyards and much more to account for. The early phrase does not infact refer to yards of any specific material but just to a nonspecific measure i.e. yards. The most likely explanation inspite of the inventive theories though frustrating is that the yards in the phrase is not a reference to any particular object but it is merely a synonym for `stuff’. With advancement of the digitisation of text and newspaper, we could find some means of finding earlier example in print that would throw some insight to what the `yards’ probably meant.

Whole Nine Yards – Give it your all – Various Theories 

The phrase `Whole Nine Yards’ means giving it you’re all, to some, while others refer as `try your best’. According to lexicographer Jonathon Green in his examination slang, states that it is unclear from where the whole nine yards come from. On the basis of most suggestions, he states that it involves standard of measurement, from the dimension of a nun’s habit to the capacity of a cement truck and the length of an ammunition belt to that of a hangman’s rope but the few when checked did run to nine yards. The whole nine yards phrase is derived from American airmen during the World War Two in the Pacific where at that time, the ammunitions belts which were loaded into the wings of the fighter aircraft seemed to be nine yards in length and at times a returning pilot while conveying the intensity of the battle to his ground crew and fellow pilots was heard saying `I gave him the whole nine yards’. But according to Nigel from London, he thinks that this phrase came from an earlier machine gun. He believed that it came from the length of the ammunition belt of a Vickers machine gun and when the gun was tested before World War I, the term which was used was `to give them the whole nine yards’.

Nine Yard ammuniation
Nick Mercer’s belief from England considers it as another type of weapon wherein he states that he had often heard it being referred to the length of 50mm ammunition loaded in each cannon on American planes in World War II and when the enemy aviator pursued relentlessly, they would get `the whole nine yards; of a belt of ammunition. While in American football, if a team would be in possession of the football and gain one yard on their first down, they were urged to gain nine more yard in the next three plays in order to receive another first down enabling them to be in possession of the ball in their drive in gaining a goal. Hence when one yard was gained on the first down, their fans would urge the team on a second down with the phrase `get the whole nine yards’. The expression was used in American culture - He got the whole nine yards.

According to M Desai, Sutton, Surrey, he considers that the phrase could be from India, where women wore sari that was nine yards long. The use of the nine yard sari was very popular during the reign of the Raj but has slowly died down and the saris seen presently are five yards long. Nine yard long saris are now only found in remote areas of the country which are worn by elderly women. Steve’s version was that when something was done without paying heed to the expenses, it was compared to a woman using the whole bolt of fabric in making a dress which was associated with the American and Canadian West, where during the early days frugality was the norm.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Know your English !! Part.X

Diacritical marks: Marks used in writing and printing to adjust the way in which a letter is pronounced,

Cedilla: (,) shaped rather like a comma, placed beneath a letter on some languages to adjust the way it is pronounced. For example, a cedilla placed beneath the letter ‘c’ in French words indicates that it should be pronounced as ‘s’ as in François
Throwing down the gauntlet:  Issuing a challenge. The original challenge involved was a duel. The gauntlet was a protective glove worn as part of a soldier’s armour in the Middle Ages. Throwing one’s gauntlet at the feet of a rival knight was a standard way of challenging him to one to one combat.

Short shrift: Brief and unsympathetic treatment, or abrupt dismissal.  The word shrift is an old term for confession in church, and short shrift originally referred to the brief time in a condemned prisoner could make his confession before being executed.

Portmanteau word (also blend): Words formed by fusing the sounds and meaning of two different words, such as chunnel  (from channel and tunnel) and chortle (from chuckle and smort). The second example was coined by Lewis Carroll, who was also responsible for the term ‘portmanteau word’. In Through the looking glass, Humpty Dumpty describes such blends as ‘like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word’- just as a portmanteau bag consists of two thinner cases hinged together at the back.

Ivory towers:  Institution or way of life secluded from reality and often devoted to abstract intellectual concerns rather than practical every day matters.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Know your English !! Part.IX

Mnemonic: Rhyme formula or device used as an aid to memory. For example, the colors of the rainbow can be recalled by the sentence Richard Of Yark Gave Battle in Vain. The initial letters of words in the sentence prompt the names of the colors in their correct order: Red, Orange, Yellow Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.
Pidgin: Simplified language based on two or more other tongues, and generally developed in colonial times as a means of communication between foreigners and indigenous people. Pidgin often sounds comical to speakers of one of the original languages- for example when an English speaker hears Prince Philip described as number one fellah bilong Missis Queen.
Pidgin English was originally a form of Anglo Chinese used by 17th century traders; curiously the term ‘pidgin’ is believed to have been a Chinese corruption of the word ‘ business’.

Palindrome: Words are expression that reads the same backwards and forwards.
Example:  Otto, Reviver, and the sentences
                Evil rats on no star live and Able was I ere I saw Elba

Pyrrhic victory: Victory that involves such great losses for the victor as to be almost as bad as defeat. The phrase is based on a supposed remark by Pyrrhus, a Greek king of the 3rd century BC. After defeating the Roman army in a battle, but suffering severe losses to his own army, he is believed to have said:’ We cannot afford another victory like that.’
Trans-: Prefix, from Latin, meaning ‘across’, ‘over’, ‘beyond’ or ‘through’, as in  translate, transplant, trans-Siberian, transcend and transparent

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Know your English !! Part.VIII

Whipping boy: Person who gets blamed for the mistakes of others, especially those more powerful. This phrase goes back to an old aristocratic practice of transferring the punishments intended for a nobleman to an innocent playmate or fellow pupil.

Scapegoat: A person who carries the blame for others is also termed a scapegoat. This term comes from the Israelite practice of confessing sins over the head of a goat which was then released into the wilderness to carry them away- literally an (e)scape(d)goat.

Running the gamut: Covering the entire range of something. The original gamut was the entire series of musical notes, a contraction of the Medieval Latin gamma and ut, the names of the highest and lowest notes of the scale.

Semantics: the study or science of word meaning, including changes of meaning over time and the way that words or sentences convey sense. This word is often used to refer to a difference in the meaning of words, particularly in an argument.

Pseudonym: False or adopted name especially the ‘pen name’ or adopted name, especially the ‘ pen name’ or NOM DE PLUME of an author.

Pulling out all the stops: Putting all one’s energies into pursuing a goal. The phrase is based on organ playing, and refers to the great effort and dexterity required to manipulate the many stops (knobs) while playing.

Anagram: Word or phrase formed by reordering the letters of another word or phrase.
Example: The words pots, tops, spot, stop and opts are all anagrams for one another.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Know your English !! Part.VII

Pig in the Poke: A purchase made sight unseen. The phrase goes back to the old market custom of selling live piglets in a sack or ‘poke’. A dishonest trader might sneak a stray cat or dog into the sack, and the unwary buyer might be ‘sold a pup’; the buyer who opened the sack to check its contents might ‘let the cat out of the bag’

Pecking order: Hierarchy of power or importance in any group or organization: The phrase came from the behavior of chickens, where weaker or less aggressive individuals submit meekly to the pecking of stronger ones.

Parting shot: Final sneer or cutting remark at the close of an argument. The phrase is an allusion to the battlefield tactics of the ancient Parthians, an Asian people, whose warriors would run in the saddle while retreating and shoot a volley of arrows at the pursuing enemy.

Enfant terrible: person of unconventional ideas or behavior, who causes dismay to the established members of his group or profession. The plural is enfant terribles, pronounced in the same way as the singular. The term is French in origin, meaning literally ‘terrible child’.

White elephant: Large or impressive possession that costs more to maintain than it is worth, or an expensive project that turns out to be a failure. In ancient Thailand elephants with a pale hide were highly valued and their owners were required to pamper them. According to tradition, such an elephant might be presented but the king to a courtier who had offended him. What appeared a generous gift turned out to be a harsh punishment, given the cost of feeding and housing the animal.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Know your English !! Part.IV

Cloud-cuckoo-land: An idealized fantasy world: this term is a translation of the name for an imaginary city, floating in the air in the play The Birds by Aristophanes.

Cutting the Gordian knot: Solving a problem by taking prompt and extremely bold or unconventional action: The phrase is based on a supposed incident that occurred in ancient history. The Gordian knot was an enormous and intricate knot tied with rope made of bark by King Gordius of Phrygia in the 4th century BC. According to the oracle, whoever could undo the knot was destined to reign over a large empire in Asia Minor. Alexander the Great apparently took up the challenge by simply hacking through the knot with his sword in 334BC.

Curate’s egg: Something that is actually bad although claimed by some-out of sensitivity or some other reason – to have both good and pad parts. The phrase derives from a punch cartoon in which a nervous young curate at a bishop’s table is given what is obviously a bad boiled egg but fearful of giving offence tells his host that ‘parts of it are excellent.
This term is often misused. It correctly refers to something which is in fact completely bad or which cannot be redeemed, and not to something which has both good and bad qualities.

Beyond the pale: totally unacceptable, unreasonable or unbearable: the original pale was an area surrounding Dublin which was under English control in 12th to 16th centuries. People living outside it were considered to be dangerous and civilized.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Know your English !! Part.III

Blue blood: Noble birth, aristocratic descent. The term is a direct translation of the Spanish songre azul:  In Spain, a pale complexion used to be considered a sign of pure breeding—unmixed by Moorish stock from the long Arab occupation of Spain. Such fair skin showed up the bluish veins on the wrist or temple, and so the idea of blue blood developed as a mark of nobility.

Crossing the Rubicon:  Taking a step or making a decision on which there is no going back, and which marks the start of a chain of events:  The Rubicon is the ancient name of a river in northern Italy, believed to be the present day Fiumicino, which Julius Caesar was prohibited from crossing. In 49 BC, however, he forced the river with his army, effectively declaring war in Rome.

Dark horse: unfamiliar competitor or quiet new comer whose abilities remain unknown or untested. The phrase derives from horse racing: the betting public might be ‘in dark’ regarding the speed, stamina, or jumping ability of an unfamiliar runner- a dark horse- and therefore uncertain about the odds.

Devil to pay:  An idiom used to warn that trouble is on the way: the original version shows hot its meaning has changed; the devil to pay and no pitch hot suggests a lack of preparation for some important task – that is, the sailors’ task of sealing with tar the seam (known as ‘the devil’) between the planks of a wooden sailing ship.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Know your English !! Part.II

Weasel Words: Words or phrases with a vague meaning- such as efficiency or not in the public interest- as used in official statements to avoid specific commitments. The idea behind the term is the supposed ability of a weasel to suck out the contents of an egg while leaving the shell intact.

Upper case: Capital letters, the larger and less common form of the letters of the alphabet, as used at the start of sentences or proper names.
The terms ‘Upper Case and Lower Case’ come from the early days of printing when type was stored in a case with capital letters at the top and small letters at the bottom.

Accent: Way in which words are pronounced in a particular region or by a particular social class. It also refers to DIACRITICAL MARKS such as ACUTE ACCENT and GRAVE ACCENT, which adjust the way letters are pronounced in some languages. The word can also refer to the emphasis or stress placed on a particular syllable in a word.
Acronym: Words formed by combining the initial letters or syllables of a name or phrase, and pronouncing it as if it were an ordinary word.
Example:  Radar, Radio Detection And Ranging.

Ante-: Prefix from Latin, meaning ‘before,’ as in anteroom.

Anti-: Prefix, from Greek, meaning ‘against’ or ‘opposed to’, as in anticlockwise

Back-formation: Words created accidentally, on the mistaken assumption that it is an earlier and more basic form of an existing word.
Example: burgle and laze are back formations of burglar and lazy