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Difficult Words

Do you come across difficult words in the columns of the newspapers? If you do, you are not alone. Many readers complain that the journalists use words that are not easy for them to understand.

What do we mean by ‘difficult' words? If a reader has to refer to a dictionary to understand the meaning of a word, it is a difficult word.
Do please mail us such difficult words. The objective is to let the journalists realise that they should not presume that their readers understand every word published in the columns.

Have you come across words that you could not understand? Please write to us

Reporters presume that the words they use in their stories are ‘common’ and already known to them. Is the presumption right? Take the example of this word, emanate. It means ‘to come out from a source.’

Reporters often use this word in such context: foul odour emanated from the closed room. Our study revealed that this was 132 of the 266 Master’s students did not know its meaning.

Similarly, ‘Capital Punishment’ was not understood by 114 students, ‘evince’ was not known to 189 and ‘Ad hoc’ to 167 of them. This finding of our study should be eye-opener for journalists in India because these Master’s students of Management Science, Journalism and English language departments in Mumbai and Pune.

These words were from among those picked up from The Times of India, The Hindu, The Indian Express, and The DNA which were available in Pune during February and March 2010. 1. Huddle 2. Ensconce 3. Protégé 4. Pogrom 5. Avant-garde 6. Emanate 7. Conundrum 8. Red herrings 9. Potpourrie 10. Raison D'etre 11. Gargantuan 12. Quagmire 13. Inferno 14. Man Friday 15. Dark Horse 16. Hustings 17. Trojan Horse 18. Keep fingers crossed 19. Juggernaut 20. Hunk 21. Followed suit 22. Evinced 23.Incarcerate 24. Conflagration 25. Furore 26. dishevelled 27. Cuss word 28. Racial slur 29. Cliché 30. Extradition 31. En bloc 32.Inter alia 33. Sic 34. Vis-à-vis 35. Ad hoc 36. Capital punishment 37. Dilemma 38. Kerfuffle 39. Endeavour 40. Ex-officio 41. Furore 42. Spin doctor 43. Inebriated 44. Raised hackles 45. Hoipolloi

We continued to discuss such words in class rooms and through a blog. Some journalist colleagues and students sent in additional inputs for the discussion. Here are some samples:

Who is a beau?
Shoaib Malik is today described in TOI (Thursday, April 8, 2010) as Sania Mirza's beau. The sub-continent by now knows that he is more than her beau (which means 'a frequent and attentive male companion', or 'a male escort for a girl or woman.') He is her fiancé and suitor. Sania's grievance, though, is that she would be known as his second wife because of the divorce with Ayesha.

Quid quo pro, fait accompli, Alibi
I came across these non-English words used in different stories in The Times of India of March 5, 2011 in its Pune edition. I wonder if its lay readers will understand meanings of these words. I checked the and here is what it says:

(In a story headlined PM accepts responsibility for CVC appointment. Mr Yashwant Sinha said ‘The only authority he claimed to have was moral authority. Now that is gone, too. He has no alibis, and no place to go.’) I remember my senior editors used to insist that alibi should be used only when you want to mean ‘a plea of having been elsewhere.’

I today came across the following Usage Note at The Alibi in Latin is an adverb meaning ‘in or at another place.’ Its earliest English uses, in the 18th century, are in legal contexts, both as an adverb and as a noun meaning ‘a plea of having been elsewhere.’ The extended noun senses ‘excuse’ and ‘person used as one's excuse’ developed in the 20th century in the United States and occur in all but the most formal writing. As a verb alibi occurs mainly in informal use. Should the reporter who wrote the story have used a word easier to understand for a lay reader: now he has no excuse.. (instead of alibi, even if Mr Sinha used ‘alibi’?)

Quid quo pro
(From the story headlined Raja may be charged with endangering national security: Sources in the agency (CBI) claim to have found evidence of quid quo pro between grant of licences under Raja to firms...)
There is no dictionary result for this word in However, the Answer Expert at says: The term quid quo pro is from the Latin meaning ‘something for something.’
In its more casual uses it generally refers to a roughly equal exchange of goods or services. It can also be used to mean such phases as ‘a favour for a favour, or, ‘give and take.’
From a legal standpoint, the term denotes that an item or service has been traded for something of value. A more negative connotation of the word involves bribery or blackmail. In England the phrase can simply mean ‘What’s in it for me’? mlrmlr - Answer Expert at My guess is the readers could have easily understood ‘give and take’ in place of quid quo pro. Fait accompli [It was the last word in the story headlined, Thackeray, LK get SC notices on Babri. (The Supreme Court justices said, ‘... In the absence of a specific notification by the state government in this regard, it’s a fait accompli.’)]
The reporter will be justified if he/she says that it was a quote from the bench. In legal circles, it may be understood, how about the lay readers? I have doubts. I think this French word should be explained as an accomplished fact, something already done and beyond alteration, as the tells us.
(Contributed by Kiran Thakur, the Principal Investigator of this research project.)

The following words were contributed by readers and journalists. Are these easy for general readers to understand? Consider and let us know if these were easy.

Kerfuffle ( commotion; disorder; agitation )
Conundrum ( a riddle, especially one whose answer makes a play on words)
Hoi polloi ( the masses; common people)
Raison D'etre ( a basic, essential purpose; a reason to exist: )
Gargantuan ( gigantic; enormous; colossal)
Quagmire  (1. a soft wet area of land that gives way under the feet; bog 2. an awkward, complex, or embarrassing situation)

Sobo (In Mumbai, this word is used a lot in lifestyle supplements. Apparently, it is short for South Bombay!)

(Contributed by Sharvari Joshi)

Unequivocal ( clear; having only one possible meaning or interpretation, absolute; unqualified; not subject to conditions or exceptions)
irreprehensible (blameless; innocent) , (opposite of reprehensible : open to criticism or rebuke; blameworthy )

(Contributed by Daivata Chavan)

Ensconce ( to settle securely or snugly)
Protégé ( a person under the  patronage, protection, or care of someone interested in his or her career or welfare)
Pogrom ( an organized massacre, especially of Jews)
Avant-garde ( of or pertaining to the experimental treatment of artistic, musical, or literary material)

(Contributed by Yogesh Joshi)