What’s in a phrase!
S. Raghunath

WHEN the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) slapped a show-cause notice on Indian Premier League (IPL) Chairman Lalit Modi and followed it up with a dismissal order, an incensed Modi charged it with "adding insult to injury".

The phrase ‘Achilles’ heel’ comes from Greek mythology
The phrase ‘Achilles’ heel’ comes from Greek mythology 

This familiar phrase is from the fable quoted by the Latin writer Ohadrus, who took it from an ancient version of Aesop’s Fables. It relates how a man who was bitten on the head by a fly and was trying to kill the insect, gave himself a hard smack. The fly said jeeringly, "You wanted to kill me for a touch and what will you do to yourself now that you’ve added insult to injury?"

In the "Letters to the Editor" column of our newspapers, many readers lament that politicians, top bureaucrats and others in public life charged with corruption and venality and economic offences are getting away "scot free". In Anglo-Saxon and medieval England, ‘Scot’ and ‘Lot’ was a municipal tax levied on all, according to their ability to pay. ‘Scot’ was the tax and ‘Lot’ was the amount to be paid by a person. To get away "scot free" was, therefore, to be freed from the payment of any tax and to be freed of any punishment or loss.

When H.R.Khanna resigned as Union Law Minister, after being in the office for just two days, he explained that he did not think that he could cope with the "hurly-burly" of politics. This phrase is derived from ancient warfare, with special reference to the excitement of hurling spears and the extraordinary burliness of men who would wield such mighty battle-axes.

The prodigal son of an Indian politician, whose star is rising, often proves to be his father’s Achilles’ heel. This phrase comes from Greek mythology. When Thetis, mother of Achilles, dipped her son into the waters of the Stygian river to make him invincible in battle, she held him by the heel, which having remained untouched by the Stygian waters, rendered him vulnerable to enemy attack. It was in this heel, in fact, that Achilles suffered a mortal wound at the Sachean Gate before Troy was taken.

The late Kamaraj was frequently referred to as the king-maker and he is in the distinguished company of Earl of Warwick (1420-71), Richard Nevulle. He was first called a king-maker because he was instrumental in first placing Edward VI on the Yorkist and Henry IV on the Lancastrian side of the English throne after placing each of them in turn.

Wait and see is one of the most famous political phrases of modern times and it was the nickname given to H.H.Asquith (later Lord of Oxford and Asquith). He first used it in an answer to a question in the House of Commons. It aroused little comment at that time, but later, when, to avoid answers to awkward questions confronting him, he used it a countless number of times and the members of the House of Commons broke into chants of "wait and see" whenever a question was put to the Right Honourable Gentleman.

As election day approaches, we can expect office-seeking politicians to make "mealy-mouthed" promises and platitudes. Mealy-mouth comes from the Greek word, Melinthus, meaning honey speech. In other words, sweetness in speech, in order to give offence or in order to win a favour, to wit votes, yours and mine.

Politicians cry themselves hoarse exhorting the faithful to "lick the (party) into shape". The origin of the phrase "to lick into shape" comes from the belief, quite erroneous in fact, that bear cubs are born shapeless and are licked into their proper form by the mother bear.

Another familiar phrase, by hook or by crook, has more purported origins than any other phrase in the English language. It is said that it is a shepherd’s phrase , meaning that rather than lose a sheep, he will make use of a crook cut from a hedge if he does not have his hook with him.

Another version is that about 100 years ago, there were two lawyers, one named Hook and the other Crook. Both were equally successful pleaders so much so, that people finding themselves on the wrong side of the law would swear that they would get acquitted in a court of law by Hook or by Crook.