Does the buck ever stop?

Play a while

EVER since the famous tryst with destiny, politicians’ words have provided entertainment to language lovers. If they are not running around like cranium-less chickens, they are busy passing the buck. Of course, in the most recent drama, a leaf was taken out of Harry S. Truman’s book too. Truman had made positive use of the phrase by putting a sign on his table that read, ‘the buck stops here’.

Learn a little

In a multilingual country like India, candidates who face any kind of interview must be extremely careful while answering questions on language proficiency. This interesting instance will demonstrate why: A candidate was asked whether she is fluent in English. She answered in the affirmative. The next question was whether she wished to learn any other language and she answered that she wanted to learn English?

Intriguing words

On wondering about the ‘buck’ in ‘passing the buck’, the dictionary yielded many nouns, verbs and adjectives. Mostly, it is used as slang for the American dollar. But that’s not what the noble politician meant. The buck that was first passed was the one used in the game of poker. When poker became very popular in America in the 19th century, players were highly suspicious of cheating and confrontation was common. To maintain fairness, dealing was rotated among the players and the person next in line was given a marker; mostly this would be a knife. In those times, knife handles were made of the buck’s horn and so, the knife came to be termed ‘the buck’ and when the dealer had dealt, he ‘passed the buck’ to the next player. Much later, silver dollars were used as markers, hence the slang ‘buck’ for dollar. Somewhere around the beginning of the 20th century, ‘pass the buck’ came to symbolise ‘the evasion of responsibility’.

Precise usage

Keeping in mind the nature of global travel, two words need clarification. The first, an emigrant is the person who leaves his or her country to go and live in another, maybe not permanently. The second, an immigrant goes to another country to live there permanently.