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

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

The proof of the pudding is in the eating

This is an expression that has been around for several centuries. When you tell someone that the `proof of the pudding is in the eating’, what you mean is that in order to determine the value of something, one needs to test or try it. You are telling the individual not to pass judgment on something without examining the facts or evidence. You will come to know if the pudding is good or bad, only after tasting it. The expression is often reduced to `the proof of the pudding’, and it has the same meaning as `don’t judge a book by its cover’.

On paper, your suggestions look great. But you know what they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

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

‘More sinned against than sinning’

This is an expression made popular by Shakespeare. In movies, we sometimes find the hero taking the law into his own hands when the legal system fails him. The villain kills his family members, but the police and the court fail to put the man behind bars. The hero then decides to take matters into his own hands, and goes around killing all those close to the villain. By doing this, he is committing a wrong, but he feels that he has the right to do what he is doing because a greater wrong has been done to him. He feels that he is the victim. When you say that someone is more sinned against than sinning, what you mean is that the individual is less guilty than those who have wronged him.

Example: It’s true she shot the politician in cold blood. But when you hear the entire story, you’ll feel she was more sinned against than sinning.

Source: “The Hindu”   – Know Your English  Column –  Feb 19, 2008

Meaning of the expression “to separate the sheep from the goats”.

This is an expression that comes from the Bible. When you say that you are going to separate the sheep from the goats, what you mean is that you are going to separate the good from the bad. It is also possible to say, “sort out the sheep from the goats”. These two expressions have the same meaning as “to separate the wheat from the chaff”.

Source: “The Hindu”   – Know Your English  Column –  Feb 12, 2008

Origin of the word ‘magazine’

The word magazine has several different meanings. A publication containing articles, ads, stories and photographs that comes out on a regular basis is called a magazine. The part of the gun which contains the bullets is also called a magazine. How did this word acquire such different meanings? According to scholars, the word ‘magazine’ comes from the Arabic ‘makhzan’ meaning ‘storehouse’. The original magazine was a place where grain and other goods were stored. According to the columnist, this explains why the part of the gun which contains the bullets is called a magazine – it is a storehouse for the ammunition. Did you know that before the 19th century even ordinary books were called ‘magazines’? After all, books are a storehouse of knowledge, aren’t they? It was only in the 19th century that the word ‘magazine’ began to refer to periodicals.

Source: “The Hindu”   – Know Your English  Column –  Feb 05, 2008