Be confident, not officious

What is the difference between ‘officious’ and ‘official’? (A Khelkar, Pune)

The word ‘official’ is frequently used in everyday contexts to refer to someone who has the authority or the power to do something. People talk about ‘police official’, ‘government official’, and so on. The word can be used as a noun and an adjective when you talk about the ‘official spokesperson’ of a political party, you mean that he is the authorised or appointed individual. The word ‘officious’ (e-FISH-es), on the other hand, is used only as an adjective, and it has a rather negative meaning. When you say that someone is ‘officious’, you mean that he is an official who asserts his authority very aggressively even in the case of trivial matters. This individual has an inflated opinion about his importance. The word has another meaning as well someone who meddles in other people’s business can also be called ‘officious’.

The officious clerk seldom looked at people and always sounded rude.

What I like about Dilip’s parents is that they’re seldom officious.

How is the word ‘debonair’ pronounced? (V Anirudh, Secunderabad)

The ‘e’ in the first syllable of this old-fashioned word is like the ‘e’ in ‘set’, ‘pet’ and ‘get’, and the following ‘o’ sounds like the ‘a’ in ‘china’. The final syllable rhymes with ‘bare’, ‘care’ and ‘share’. The word is pronounced ‘deb-e-NARE’ with the stress on the third syllable. It comes from the French ‘de bon’ aire’ meaning ‘of good race’. Nowadays, the word is mostly used with men. When you refer to a man as being ‘debonair’, what you are suggesting is that he is a charming, confident and stylishly dressed individual. Ladies are usually drawn to his charm and sophistication.

Who’s the debonair man in the three-piece suit?

Girls swooned when the debonair professor walked into the classroom.

What is the meaning of the expression ‘meet someone half way’? (J Uma, Erode)

This is an expression mostly used in informal contexts to mean ‘to compromise’. When you negotiate with someone, what is it that usually happens? You make certain demands, and then proceed to negotiate with the other party. They may be willing to meet some of your demands, but not all. In order to reach an agreement, both of you compromise; you do not insist on all your demands being met. The two of you arrive at an agreement by each one of you giving up something. When two parties meet each other half way, they agree to do a part of what the other wants.

The bill couldn’t be passed because the Opposition wasn’t willing to meet the Government half way.

I wanted 60 lakhs for the flat and Abdul was quoting 50. We both met halfway and settled on 55 lakhs.

Is it okay to say, ‘You’d better take care of not shouting at Jyothi’?

No, it is not. The expression ‘take care of’ is usually used to mean to look after someone. We normally talk about ‘taking care of one’s parents/children/health’, etc. In the example that you have given, you are not requesting someone to look after Jyothi. What you would like the person to do is not shout at Jyothi. We normally say, ‘You’d better take care not to shout at Jyothi’.

Raj better take care not talk to Satish’s girlfriend.

You’d better take care not to make my boss angry.


“Love thy neighbour – and if he happens to be tall, debonair and devastating, it’ll be that much easier.”
Mae West

The author teaches at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. [email protected]

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