Live & let live

Play a while

The students of a class expressed their anguish over a teacher’s repeated use of the word ‘duffer’ for them. On facing the question of political correctness of the word, a visit to etymology became imperative and the result was surprising because of course, ‘duffer’ refers to an efficient and stupid person but it also has three more contexts. In Australia, a duffer is a cattle-stealer, in New Zealand it is an unproductive mine or goldfield claim and in both countries, something is ‘duffered out’ when it is exhausted. It is slang and is derived from the Scots ‘doofart’ meaning ‘stupid person’.

Learn a little

Dasgupta calls English the ‘auntie tongue’ of Indians. In some ways, this is an apt description because it can not be a mother tongue for the majority of Indians; at the same time, it is not just a foreign language for some and is well on its way towards a place between the first language and the second language for the ‘now’ generation. So, ‘auntie’ is the best relationship we can enjoy with it. Just as each auntie enjoys a different place in a person’s life, English has its peculiar place in the lives of Indian users. That is why no imported methodology can teach it to us, we need our own, homegrown idea and innovation for its effective teaching.

Intriguing words

Like all living beings, words also die. And when they die, they literally fall out of the dictionary with the label of ‘obsolete’. Read on for instances of such tragic demise: snobographer was a person who wrote about snobs. Anything dry or brittle was ‘kexy’ in the 17th century. ‘Fabrefaction’ was the making of a work of art and the killing of a teacher was termed ‘magistricide’.

Precise usage

Two words often confused are authoritarian and authoritative. The former is used as an adjective in the negative sense meaning ‘domineering or tyrannical’ as can be seen in this sense: ‘The authoritarian nature of this government has created many enemies’. The latter is used in the positive sense as in this sense: ‘The teacher will prescribe the most authoritative books for the class’. ‘Authoritative’ means ‘definitive, conclusive’.