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

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“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 response to ‘How do you do?’

It depends on which side of the Atlantic you are from. In British English, the standard response to ‘How do you do?’ is ‘How do you do?’ In India, when someone says ‘namaste’, we respond by saying ‘namaste’. The same is the case with ‘How do you do?’ This is an expression that is normally used when you are introduced to someone; once you have been introduced, you never use the expression with that individual again. The British make a distinction between ‘How do you do?’ and ‘How are you?’ The Americans, on the other hand, do not always maintain this distinction. It is common for Americans to say, ‘Fine, thank you’ in response to ‘How do you do?’ In India, you will be better off doing what the British do.

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

Difference between “sojourn” and “journey”

When you take a journey, you travel from one place to another. The distance may be covered in a matter of few hours, or it may take several days or months. A journey may or may not involve a brief halt or stop somewhere along the way. The original meaning of ‘journey’ was a day’s travel.

*The two drove like crazy and completed the journey in five hours.

As for the word ‘sojourn’, first, let’s deal with the pronunciation. The ‘o’ in the first syllable is like the ‘o’ in ‘hot’, ‘got’, and ‘pot’. The ‘j’ that follows is like the ‘j’ in ‘jam’, ‘jack’, and ‘job’; the final ‘ourn’ is like the ‘urn’ in ‘burn’ and ‘turn’. The stress is on the first syllable ‘so’. A ‘sojourn’ is a not a journey of any kind. When you sojourn somewhere, you stay in that place for a short while; the stay is usually temporary. The word is mostly used in formal contexts.

*Dravid sojourned at his brother’s home on his way to Mumbai.

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

Is it okay to introduce myself in the following manner? “I am Mr. Thomas.”

When James Bond introduces himself, he says, ‘My name is Bond. James Bond’. He doesn’t say ‘My name is Mr. Bond. Mr. James Bond’. We often hear Indian men introduce themselves as ‘Mr. Sharma’, ‘Mr. Rao’, etc. When you introduce yourself, there is no need for you to include ‘Mr.’ before your name. Native speakers of English do not include the word ‘Mr.’ when they introduce themselves.

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

Difference between ‘missive’ and ‘letter’

First, the pronunciation:  The first syllable of ‘miss’ is pronounced like the word ‘miss’, while the second sounds like the ‘ive’ in ‘massive’ and ‘passive’. The stress is on the first syllable. A missive is a longish letter, often official, sent by someone. It is usually sealed and contains ‘private’ information. The word is considered rather old fashioned, and is mostly used in literary contexts; in informal contexts, it is used humorously.

Example: After the meeting, the Ambassador sat down and wrote a five page missive to the President.

The word ‘missive’ comes from the Latin ‘missus’ meaning ‘to send’; missives are usually sent to individuals. ‘Letter’, on the other hand, is a general term and it can be sent to individuals, companies, organisations, etc. It may deal with business or private matters.

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