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English Errors: Word meanings are always changing
Praveen Naik, Rahaul VA
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July 30, 2007

In India, we have over a dozen official languages and countless local dialects. So how does a farmer from Bihar speak with a fisherman from Goa [Images] [Images]? The answer, for now, is 'not easily'.

One day, however, all Indians will use English as a first, second or third language. This will allow them to communicate effectively not only with other Indians, but also the rest of the world.

Of course, getting to that point won't be easy. For most of us, English is still a challenge. With all its irregularities, exceptions and rules, English is a very difficult language to master.

With that in mind, presents our English Bloopers series. Here, we publish written and spoken mistakes spotted and sent to us by observant Get Ahead readers. It's a great way to review the basics, clarify a few issues and share a laugh or two! 

So, stop by each Monday, Wednesday and Friday for another fresh batch of English Bloopers.

Praveen M Naik, from Bangalore, sends caution to readers using outdated words and expressions. He writes:

Many English words have evolved over the years; their meanings have changed, in some cases drastically. Therefore we must be very careful while using certain words, so that embarrassing situations are avoided.

WRONG: Tom bought a new dress for himself.
The word 'dress' is used specifically for women's clothing. Therefore, the above sentence suggests that Tom has a habit of wearing women's clothing!
CORRECT: Tom bought a new garment for himself.

WRONG: Tom is always so carefree and gay.
The word 'gay' is used exclusively to indicate a homosexual person. It is no more a synonym for 'happy' or 'cheerful'. The above statement erroneously raises a question about Tom's sexual preference.
CORRECT: Tom is always so carefree and cheerful.

UNCLEAR: Tom is a sick man.
The word 'sick' means 'ill' or 'unwell'. But the same adjective is used to indicate someone or something of a morose or disgusting nature. The above statement can be interpreted to mean that Tom is a man of objectionable character.
CORRECT: Tom is an ailing man.

UNCLEAR: Tom is mad.
The word 'mad' means 'lunatic' or 'insane'. But in certain cases it is also used as a replacement for 'angry' or 'vexed'. The above statement can be interpreted as --Tom is very angry (at someone).
CORRECT: Tom is crazy.

UNCLEAR: Tom is dumb.
The word 'dumb' conventionally refers to a person who cannot speak (a mute). But in modern English it is used commonly as a synonym of 'stupid'.
CORRECT: Tom is speech-impaired. (The least offensive way to put it)

UNCLEAR: This is a cheap restaurant.
The word 'cheap' has two meanings. Traditionally, it means 'inexpensive' or low in price. But from the perspective of modern English, it is very likely that the above statement might make the listener/reader think that the restaurant in question is a place of morally corrupt activities or that the restaurant serves food of bad quality.
CORRECT: This is an inexpensive restaurant.

UNCLEAR: Where is my rubber?
A girl from India was participating in a meeting, where all others were Americans. During the course of the meeting the girl misplaced her eraser. 'Where is my rubber?' she cried. "Can anyone find my rubber, please?" There was stunned silence in the room, followed by giggles and guffaws. Please note that 'rubber' is a casual term for 'condom'. In India, the term 'rubber' is used very commonly for an eraser. It is safer that we refer to an eraser as an 'eraser'.
CORRECT: Where is my eraser?

Rahaul VA, 28 years old and a software engineer in Bangalore, has a hilarious story involving the 'rubber' and 'eraser' confusion. He says:

This happened during my visit to the US.

One of my colleagues, an Indian, was about to give a presentation and he needed to erase the content on the writing board.

He came and asked my project manager, who was an American: "I need a rubber" . 

The project manager was stunned because, in the US, a condom is informally known as a rubber.

The project manager asked: "You need a rubber?".

My colleague said: "Yes. It is urgent. I cannot proceed without it".

I need not explain what was going through the project manager's mind at this juncture.

He said: "I'll make the necessary provisions. But why on Earth do you need a rubber right before a meeting? Is it a superstition?"

Thamkfully, I realised the cause of confusion and intervened on my colleague's behalf.


MORE English bloopers

If you'd like to share common bloopers you come across when people speak/ write in English, do mail your list, along with their correct alternatives to -- we'll highlight them right here as a helpful guide to those trying to improve their English. Also, make sure you include your FULL NAME, AGE, OCCUPATION and the CITY you are based in.

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