Know your English — How is the word ‘rigmarole’ pronounced?

What is the difference between ‘felon’ and ‘criminal’

(K.P. Anuradha, Bangalore)

First, let us deal with the pronunciation of ‘felon’ The first syllable is pronounced like the word ‘ell’ and the ‘o’ in the second syllable sounds like the ‘a’ in ‘china’. The word is pronounced ‘FELL-en’ with the stress on the first syllable. Both ‘felon’ and ‘criminal’ refer to someone who has done something illegal; someone who has committed a crime. The difference is one of severity of the crime. A person is usually called a felon when he has committed a major or serious crime — murder, rape, kidnapping, etc.

In the past, the word was used only when the person had been tried and convicted of the charges levelled against him. Nowadays, people are labelled ‘felons’ even before their case has been tried in court. The word is derived from the Latin ‘fellownem’ meaning ‘evil doer’. It is not surprising therefore, that felon originally meant ‘wicked person’; this meaning, however, has now become obsolete. The word ‘criminal’ is a much more general term; he is also someone who has done something wrong. In this case, the crime committed could be minor — cheating in an exam — or major.

*Why would you want to do business with a convicted felon?

What is the meaning and origin of ‘seamy side of life’?

(Jai Prakash, Chennai)

Shakespeare was one of the first persons to use this idiom. A person who has seen the ‘seamy side of life’ has been witness to the unpleasant aspects of life — he/she has seen the filth that people live in, the level people are willing to stoop to in order to make a living, etc.

*Raina saw the seamy side of life when he was a social worker.

According to one theory, the expression comes from the everyday garments that we wear — shirts, trousers, blouses, etc. Compared to the outside, the inside of these garments always look crude and feel rough because of the seams. Another theory is that the seams refer to the underside of a carpet. When a carpet is turned over, all the threads and knots become clearly visible.

How is the word ‘rigmarole’ pronounced?

(TK Uma, Mumbai)

The first syllable rhymes with ‘pig’, ‘wig’ and ‘big’, while the ‘a’ in the second is pronounced like the ‘a’ in ‘china’. The final syllable sounds like the word ‘role’. The word is pronounced ‘RIG-me-role’ with the stress on the first syllable. Some people spell the word ‘rigamarole’. Any long, foolish, confusing speech or discourse can be called a rigmarole — think of the speeches and interviews shown on Television. Rigmarole can also be used to refer to any long, complicated procedure. The word comes from ‘ragman roll’, a game children played in the past.

*The speaker went into a long rigmarole about the awards he had won.

What is the meaning of ‘townterview’?

(Rajani, Cochin)

This relatively new word is a combination of ‘town’ and ‘interview’. Originally, the term was used to refer to the members of the public interviewing a politician in a town hall. This gathering in a relatively small place was meant to provide a sense of intimacy. Hillary Clinton is famous for her townterviews.

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