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While working in his fields one day, Charles discovered a genie in a bottle. It asked him to make a wish and he immediately wished to be made a gentleman. And, pat! His wish was granted! He was so happy, so very happy, until he realized an hour later, that the genie had made him the younger son of a landlord. Oh, he moaned, how could he have forgotten about Primogeniture? He should have asked to be made the elder son! What was the fun in being the younger son? He would still have to work to earn his living. Urgh!


Genies were what the jinni of the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights became, when they came to Europe through French translators in the early 1700s. The word ‘genie’, however, had been used for at least 50 years before that for a similar concept; it had been used as the short form of Genius.


The ancient Romans believed that the spirits of their ancestors looked after their gens, personally guiding and guarding each member of the clan. They were also supposed to control his temperament and destiny, and grant him intellectual prowess and abilities. This tutelary spirit was worshipped as the Genius (plural: genii. The word genius means ‘creator, begetter) of the family. They believed that the Genius wanted them to make merry and enjoy fully the life he had blessed them with. The related adjective is genialCongenial people have, or seem to have, the same Genius (L. com-, together); they are that alike in nature, tastes or feelings. A congenial work atmosphere is the one that suits your temperament.


The word ingenious came to English in the early 1400s from the Latin ingenium, meaning ‘inborn ability’. A man gifted with genius was, therefore, called ingenious and slowly, the word began to be used for any fellow who was ‘very clever and inventive.’ An ingenious object was one that was cleverly made. However, in the 1590s, another word entered English and muddled things up. Ingenuous arrived from the Latin ingenuus, meaning ‘in the native state, hence free, honest and frank.’ An ingenuous man has not cloaked his child-like innocence with worldly sophistication. He dislikes self-restraint, clever manipulations and diplomacy, and speaks out simply whatever is on his mind. The noun form of ingenuous was ingenuity.


However, the similar spellings of ingenious and ingenuous caused considerable confusion to the writers and the general public, and for about 200 years, the two words were used interchangeably. Thus, the word ingenuity came to mean both ‘ingeniousness’ and ‘ingenuousness.’


This drama ended only around 1800 AD, when the dictionaries strictly refused to acknowledge ingenious and ingenuous as synonyms. However, by then, it was already too late for ingenuity. It had started being used exclusively in the sense of ‘clever inventiveness’ and its older, original sense had been totally snatched away by the word ‘ingenuousness.’


Churl: (n) a rude, unmannered person.
Origin: Gmn karl, man => ‘common man’ => ‘free peasant’ => ‘uneducated, rural man’ => ‘person of low birth, lacking all refinement’ =>
‘ill-mannered, rude person.’

The word ‘churl’ itself is rarely used. However, its adjective form—churlish, meaning ‘ill-tempered, bad-mannered, rude’—is quite common.
  • The newspapers criticized the main Opposition party saying that it was behaving like a churlish child who throws tantrums on anything and everything.
  • It is churlish to not shake an offered hand.
  • “Madam, are you ok?” A jogger asked a woman who was crying alone in the park. “Who are you to ask?She glared at him. “Get lost from here.“How churlish!” he exclaimed and jogged off.
In each of the sentences above, we can replace the word ‘churlish’ with ‘boorish’.

Primogeniture: (n) a system of inheritance in which the whole property, wealth, every title and office, and in the case of royals, the throne,
passed exclusively to the eldest son. This forced the younger sons to earn a living in the military, the clergy or the industry.
Origin: L primus, first + gen-, birth => ‘first-born.’

Prowess: (n) skill, exceptional ability or strength.
  • A good singer is one who can show his prowess in every genre of music.
  • India has proved its technical prowess by successfully developing indigenous satellites, satellite launch vehicles, missiles, submarines, warships and nuclear weapons.
Tutelary: (adj) having the position of guardian or protector of a person, place, or thing. Noun: tutelage, meaning ‘the act of guarding,
protecting, or guiding’.
Origin: L. tueri, to watch over, guard.
  • Madhu learnt music under the tutelage of Pandit S. Sankar Rao.
  • Ram and Lakshman learnt the scriptures and the martial arts under the tutelage of Sage Vishwamitra.
The other words from the root tueri are: tutor, tuition and intuition.

Beget: (v) to produce.
  • Rama was begotten by King Dashratha and Queen Kausalya. He was in fact the first-begotten son the king.
  • Dashratha begot Rama and Rama begot Luv and Kush.
  • You cannot hope to lead a happy life yourself if you make others’ life miserable. Misery begets misery.
Genial: (adj) that which supports life and happiness, warm.
  • A child can grow into a cheerful adult only if he gets a genial atmosphere at home and school.
  • The families of both Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun are models of geniality. Take any person from either family and you will know what the word genial means. The characters of Salman Khan’s kaka (his maternal uncle, who has also been his foster father since his parents died in an accident), his elder brother Rajesh, Madhuri Dixit’s parents and her elder sister, Puja all have genial natures.
Congenial: (adj) suited to one’s nature or habits; alike in nature or habits. Now, you are usually friendly with someone whom you find to be quite similar to you. So, congenial also means friendly.
  • Dada was never happy when he was forced to move out of the congenial surroundings of his house. Without his books, his pen and paper, and his homely untidiness, he was an uncomfortable man. He was usually a congenial person but if you met him on one of his forced out of the house tours, you would only think: “What an angry, scowling man!”

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