What is the meaning of ‘serendipity’?

First, let’s deal with the pronunciation. The ‘e’ in the first syllable sounds like the ‘e’ in ‘set’, ‘bet’, and ‘get’, while the ‘e’ in the second is like the ‘a’ in ‘china’. The ‘i’ in the third and fourth syllables and the final ‘y’ are pronounced like the ‘i’ in ‘sit’, ‘bit’, and ‘hit’. The word is pronounced ‘serendipiti’, with the stress on the third syllable ‘di’.


Sometimes, we make rather fortunate discoveries by sheer accident. This lucky tendency that some people have to find interesting or valuable things by chance is called ‘serendipity’. The word is considered formal, and is mostly used in literary contexts.


*According to the artist, some of the best effects in his garden have been the result of serendipity.


‘Serendip’ is the old Persian name for Sri Lanka. In the fairy tale, ‘The Three Princes of Serendip’, the main characters make wonderful discoveries by chance. The American writer, Horace Walpole, coined the word ‘serendipity’ in 1754 in a letter he wrote to his friend.


Source: “The Hindu”   – Know Your English  Column –  March 11, 2008

What’s the difference between ‘envelope’ and ‘envelop’?

The first is a noun and the second a verb. An ‘envelope’ is something in which you send a letter. Nowadays of course, not many people use ‘envelopes’ because they prefer email.

When used as a noun, the ‘en’ is pronounced ‘on’ and the following ‘e’ is like the ‘a’ in ‘china’. The ‘o’ is like the ‘o’ in ‘so’, ‘go’, and ‘no’, and the final ‘e’ is silent. The stress in this case is on the first syllable. The word is pronounced ‘onvelope’.

When used as a verb, the word means to surround or cover something completely. The ‘en’ is pronounced like the word ‘in’, and the following ‘e’ sounds like the ‘e’ in ‘set’, ‘bet’, and ‘get’. The ‘o’ is like the ‘a’ in ‘china’, and the main stress is on the second syllable. The word is pronounced ‘invelep’.

*The fog had enveloped the airport. The pilot couldn’t see a thing.

*The plan seems to be enveloped in secrecy.

Source: “The Hindu”   – Know Your English  Column –  March 11, 2008

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 “Knocked their socks off”

When you say that something knocked your socks off, what you mean is that you found it to be really exciting or good.”

“In other words, it pleased you very much.  You were extremely pleased or happy with it. You were just blown away by the experience.


“You should see Narender’s new car. It’ll knock your socks off.”

“The new restaurant is a very small place. The decor isn’t great, but the food will simply knock your socks off.”

“You must try this new brand of ice cream. It’ll knock your socks off.”

“It’s also possible to say ‘blow the socks off someone’. When the little girl began to sing, she blew the socks off everyone.”

Source: “The Hindu”   – Know Your English  Column –  March 04, 2008

Meaning of ‘until the cows come home’

The expression ‘until the cows come home’, means ‘for a very long time’.

The cowherd takes the cows out for grazing early in the morning and brings them back only in the evening. He is out the whole day and hence the term is used to mean ‘for a very long time’.

When the expression was first used, it meant ‘entire day’. Now it’s used to mean for a very long time.

Example: “ You can keep asking till the cows come home, but there is no way that you are going to get a new laptop.

“You are waiting for my boss to come up with a reasonably good idea? Then I’m afraid you’ll be waiting until the cows come home.”

“The two parties debated the issue till the cows came home, but for some strange reason they just couldn’t reach an agreement.”

Source: “The Hindu”   – Know Your English  Column –  March 04, 2008

“La-la land”

“When you say that someone is in la-la land, what you mean is that they are out of touch with reality. The person has no clue what’s going on”.

For example, “I have no idea what’s going on with my cousin Ganesh. He seems to be in la-la land.”

“If you ask me, people who believe that cricket is still a gentleman’s game are living in la-la land.”

Where does the expression ‘la-la-land’ come from?”

‘LA’ is the short form of Los Angeles. People living in this city are thought to be odd or eccentric. Hence the expression ‘la-la land’.

Source: “The Hindu”   – Know Your English  Column –  March 04, 2008

What is the meaning of the expression `on the fly’?

This is an informal expression that is mostly used in American English. When you do something `on the fly’, you do it very quickly, without spending too much time thinking about it.

This is a serious matter. I don’t think you should be taking decisions on the fly. The expression has another meaning as well. It means the ability to perform a task while you are on the move.

Padma’s new cell phone enables her to check her email on the fly.

Source: “The Hindu”   – Know Your English  Column –  Feb 26, 2008