Saturday, June 16, 2001

Mortal practices, immortal words

IN the days when most men wore wigs, judges, bishops and nobles wore full-length wigs like the ones worn by some judges even today, in the films. To wear or to be a big-wig meant that the wearer was someone of importance, and this meaning still holds today.

Today, a film which runs very well is a block-buster in terms of entertainment but the original block-buster was not as harmless or entertaining. Block buster was the British name for, first, a 4,000 lb. bomb, later, an 8,000 lb. bomb, designed for dropping on pin-pointed industrial targets during World War II. No man-made structure could resist these bombs. Maybe block-buster films are so-called because no mere mortal should be able to resist them.

Bogus is a corruption of the name Borghese. There was once a man who did tremendous business in supplying the West of America with counterfeit bills. Once discovered, his currency was called ‘bogus’ currency, and bogus remained a term for anything counterfeit.

These days people often dance attendance on important folk in order to encash favours from them. Dancing attendance means being at someone’s beck and call. The reference is to an old wedding custom where the bride had to dance with every guest, at the gathering to celebrate her wedding, for fear of offending any of them.

Passage of words
May 26, 2001
Traces of the past
May 12, 2001
April 28, 2001
Lost origins
April 14, 2001
Words and society
March 31, 2001
Origin of expressions
March 17, 2001
Varied origins
March 3, 2001
Words around the house
February 17, 2001
Words around the house
February 3, 2001
Medical terms
January 20, 2001
Painting the town red
January 6, 2001
Expressions from seas
December 23, 2000
Time capsule of words
December 16, 2000
New words
December 2, 2000
Words from myths
November 11, 2000

Demise is often used in the sense of the death of a person. The etymology of the word holds this meaning to be incorrect. The original meaning of demise was ‘to transfer or bequeath’ and the term was applied to a monarch’s death, whereby the crown was demised to his heir and successor.

‘Family circle’ as a phrase has lost most of its significance today. In the Norman period, the family circle was, indeed, that — members of a family sitting in a circle. The fire occupied a space in the centre of the room and the smoke found a vent through a hole in the roof.

Ever wondered where ‘grass widow’ comes from? From the grass, to be precise. European husbands in India sent their wives customarily, to the cool hills during the hot summer, while they remained behind in the hot cities, busy at work. On the hills, in the cool climate, the grass grew green, hence a grass widow. Perhaps, a wife away from her husband felt killed by kindness, so she cynically called herself so. Anyhow, in Ancient Greece, Draco, a legislator was actually killed by kindness. A popular man, he was smothered to death in the theatre at Aegina, in 590 BC, by the mass of cloaks and caps showered upon him by spectators.


Ever wondered where the English bungalow came from? From Bengali, to be exact. In Bengal, perhaps due to the humid weather, a single-storeyed, mud-walled and thatch-roofed home was very popular. It had a garden on all four sides. When the Mughals saw these houses, they liked them on sight and made quite a few for their begums. The British too appreciated these bunglaas for their cool air. The English dictionary today carries the word bungalow. Bengal was frequently referred to as bung and is still called bung in our national anthem. Bunglaa meant ‘of Bengal’.

— Deepti

This feature was published on June 9, 2001