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The rioters came and ransacked the whole house. One of them found Amu and Sahib crouching under the bed. They yanked out the cowering children, took them out in the courtyard, doused them with petroleum and set them afire.

Their grandfather, who had rushed back home as soon as he heard of the riots, was petrified when he saw the charred bodies.


He did not even cry. What could tears have done when, in one ruthless stroke, Fate had taken away his everything? They were his world! His darling little Amu…naughty Sahib…Neighbours came. He did not even register their presence…how much pain they must have felt…they would have called out to him…if only he had taken them along to the shop…After the neighbours had tried hard enough to shake him into consciousness, they picked up the children’s bodies and took them to the site of mass burial. They found him dead the next morning, at the same spot, in the same pose.


Greek lithos  stone

The ‘Lithosphere’ is the solid Earth, as distinguished from the atmosphere and the hydrosphere.

The Kailasa temple in the Ellora caves is reputed as the largest
monolith of the world. Carved out of a single rock, this three-storey high temple is believed to have taken 7,000 labourers and 150 years to complete.


Johan August Arfwedson, a Swedish mineralogist, discovered an element in 1818. Its chemical analysis showed that, like Sodium and Potassium, it belonged to Group I of the periodic table. The latter two had been discovered from plant sources. To emphasize that this one had come from a mineral, it was named Lithium.


Latin mons mountain

The word ‘mount’ is used both as a noun and a verb. As a noun, it means ‘a mountain’, and as a verb, ‘to go up, ascend.’ The words having a mount in them are surmount, insurmountable, paramount and mountebank.


Now, close your eyes and imagine a mountain. What you see is a great mass of land rising above and towering over the entire area. A mountain is a natural projection in the earth’s surface. This is why, the root minere, closely related with mons, means ‘to project, jut.’

The words from this root are:

Minere-1: Prominentpromontory, promenade

Minere-2: eminent, preeminent, imminent

Minere-3: menaceminatory, amenabledemean


Latin unda water

This unda is from an IE root. It had a Sanskrit cognate which is today found in a very common Hindi word. Can you guess which Hindi word that is? No, it is not andaa, the egg. Hint: that word will be related with water.



Meanwhile, let me list the English words derived from the Latin unda:


Did you get to the Hindi word? It is samundar, sea. Samundar is a simplification of the Sanskrit word samudra. The Sanskrit cousin of the Latin unda is udra.


Greek aner man

Did the root strike a bell? The Persian and Sanskrit nar also means ‘man’. The Hindi word sundar is made of su-, good (the Sanskrit prefix su- and the Greek prefix eu- both mean ‘good’), and nar.

The name Andrew simply means ‘man’ just like the Hindi name Maanav.


A woman who loved her man dearly was called a ‘philanderer’ (Greek philos, loving). Down the line, however, someone misconstrued the word as ‘a loving man’ instead of ‘man loving.’ That mistaken sense stuck with the word and totally washed out its actual meaning. So, today, the word philanderer is used for ‘a loving man’ who is so full of love that one woman is not enough for him. He goes about distributing his love to a bevy of beauties, without being serious about any of them and without letting any of them know about the simultaneous existence of the others.


Ransack: (v) to turn a place upside down, usually in search of something.

  • After two police constables pelted stones on the protesting students, the angry students ransacked the administrative office of the university.

Pelt: (v) to throw, to attack

(v) to pull or remove abruptly and vigorously.

  • She yanked open the door.
  • It hurts much more to pull off a band-aid one hair at a time than to yank it in one go.
  • Savita Sharma was having her morning walk in her street. Suddenly, a young man passing by her on a motorcycle slowed down and yanked off her necklace. She caught hold of his arm and started shouting. He tried to speed away but she did not release his arm. She was dragged along with the motorcycle for some metres before the neighbours gathered and caught hold of the chain-snatcher.

Cower: (v) to shrink or curl up, as in fear or shame. Unrelated to ‘coward’.

  • “We will not cower before these terrorists, do whatever they might!” The Home Minister thundered before the TV cameras after serial

bomb blasts in New Delhi.

(v) to wet thoroughly; to extinguish.

  • 61fire tenders rushed to douse the fire at the hotel.
  • The famous film director Raj Kapoor often showed his heroines dousing themselves under a waterfall.

Petrify: (v) turn into stone. Mnemomic: Pathar-ified.

The hungry beggar munched the petrified two-day old roti that the housewife gave him.

(v) make or become black as a result of burning; to reduce to charcoal by incomplete combustion.

Origin: back formation from charcoal => ‘to turn to charcoal’

(adj) without pity, cruel, merciless.

Origin: ruth+ less => ‘without ruth’

The don was ruthless. His enemy begged him to spare his son and take his life instead. The don agreed and killed the man. Then, he

directed the gun at the son and shot him too.

(n) pity for another; sorrow or grief over one’s own flaws or misdeeds.

Origin: Middle English reuthe= rue+ -th.

Rue: (v) to feel sorry.

Thus, to sum up, the word ‘rue’ is the grandmother. It produced the word ‘ruth’, which in turn, produced ‘ruthless’. Rue means ‘to feel sorry.’

means ‘the state of feeling sorry for somebody or yourself.’ And, the guy who never feels sorry—for anybody or his own actions—is called ruthless.

Just like rue-ruth, we have true-truth.

  • When her only son threw her out of the house, the old woman rued the day she had transferred all the property to his name.

Monolith: (n) something made from a single large block of stone; something as uniform and imposing as a large block of stone


Origin: Gk monos, single + lithos, stone => ‘made of one stone’

(adj) acting as a single, often rigid, uniform whole.

  • The colonists splitted every colony into competing groups so that the natives could never unite and present a monolithic front.

Surmount: (v) overcome, to be above or on top of.

Origin: L sur- is a variant of the prefix sub-. Sub-, beyond + mount, to go up => ‘to go up and beyond (the challenges)’

  • The lovers were confident that their love would surmount all challenges and emerge victorious.

Insurmountable: (adj) that which cannot be overcome

  • The song hum honge kaamyaab ek din gives us the confidence that the roadblocks on our way are not insurmountable and that we shall, indeed, build a peaceful world someday.

In this sentence, we could also have used the word insuperable instead of insurmountable.

(adj) that which cannot be overcome.

Origin: L in-+ super, above + -able => ‘that above which you cannot rise.’

(adj) supreme, of the highest rank or importance.

Origin: par- is a variant of the Latin prefix per-. Per, through + ad-, to + mount, ‘go up’ => ‘to go up throughout’ => ‘at the very top’

  • The will of the people is paramount in a democracy.

Mountebank: (n) a person who sells quack medicines.

Origin: Italian montimbanco which is built from: L mount+ -im-, variant of in- meaning ‘on’ + banco, bench => ‘a man who climbs on a bench’ => ‘a man who climbs on a bench in the market to attract a crowd and then boasts of his infallible medicines and cures’

(n) a person who pretends to have medical skills which he actually does not have.

Origin: shortened form of quacksalver. Quacksalver: quack, a duck’s cry + salve, something that soothes pain + -er => ‘a man who goes quackquack like a duck about his ability to soothe pain.’ => ‘a man who boasts about his medicinal skills’ => ‘a man who falsely boasts about his medicinal skills’

The Hindi word for a mountebank or quack is neem-haqeem. Another word which means the same is charlatan. The words mountebankquack and charlatan can be used interchangeably.

  • The health care system in rural India is abysmal. Most often, when a patient goes to the government hospital or primary health centre, he finds it empty. The government doctors do not come to the hospitals. And, most of the private doctors are quacks. They do not know much about medicine and give random medicines—some are even known to give saline injections for malaria—just so that the patient is convinced that he has been treated by a doctor and pays the fees.
  • Most of the ladies at the kitty party gushed about Dr Kanti Shah’s weight-reduction pills and called him the Diet Guru. A few, however, dismissed his prescriptions as mere nostrums of a mountebank.

Nostrum: (n) quack medicine; a medicine sold with false or exaggerated claims and with no proven effectiveness.

Origin: L noster, our => ‘a quack selling a medicine saying “our” special medicine does this and this and that.’


Prominent: (adj) standing out, distinguished, well known.

Origin: L pro-, forth + minere => ‘projected forward’ => ‘standing out of the rest’

  • The dharna of the students received support from prominent citizens of the city.

Promontory: (n) a point of land, usually high and with a sharp drop, extending out into the sea beyond the line of the coast.

Origin: L pro-, forth + minere => ‘projected forward’ => ‘a piece of land that is projected forward’

  • The fort stood on a promontory and overlooked a scenic lake.

Promenade: (n) a leisurely walk; a place used for such walking. (v) to go on a leisurely walk.

Origin: L pro-, forward + minare, projecting points, threaten => ‘to use threats to drive forward’ => ‘to drive animals forward with shouts’ =>‘walking’

  • The whole family went to take a promenade on the lake.
  • The orchard seemed to be a favourite promenade for the aged women of the neighbourhood.

Eminent: (adj) famous, standing out among all others.

Origin: L e-, out + minare => ‘to jut out’

  • Eminent surgeon, eminent peaks

Preeminent: (adj) number one in eminence; the most eminent; greatest in importance or achievement, outstanding.

Origin: L pre-, before + e- + minare => ‘to stand out before all others.’

  • The IIM Ahmedabad is a preeminent business school of India.

Imminent: (adj) about to occur, going to happen any moment.

Origin: L in-, into + minere => ‘to jut out into’ => ‘overhanging, hovering threateningly around one’s head.’

  • The Intelligence reports warned the state government that a terrorist attack on the chief minister was imminent.
  • A cyclist coming along the road had to run offtrack to avoid an imminent collision with the speeding car.

Menace: (n) threat, danger. (v) to threaten, put in danger

Origin: L minare, to threaten

  • The menace of terrorism must be fought bravely.
  • The terrorists menaced the security of the country.

Minatory: (adj) threatening.

Origin: L minare, to threaten.

(adj) answerable, open to an idea or advice.

Origin: L minare, to threaten -> to drive (cattle etc.) with shouts -> mener, to lead; L ad, to, towards + mener = amener, to lead towards (the law) => answerable to the law.

  • The American ambassador to India is not amenable to the Indian laws.
  • The villagers were more amenable to the suggestion of saving trees after social workers explained to them that their children’s life tomorrow would be very tough if they continued to cut trees today.

Demean: (v) to behave in the proper manner in society. This behaviour towards the others is called one’s ‘demeanour’.

Origin: L de-, no meaning here + mener, to drive a herd of cattle => ‘the way one drives a herd’ => the way one behaves in the herd of society.

  • Ravinder always lost his temper whenever things did not go his way. He disliked this tendency of his but seemed unable to change it.

How he wished he had his mother’s cool demeanour! He had seen her face every challenge, no matter how big, without a frown on

her forehead.

Do not confuse this demean with the other one, which means ‘to lower in social dignity’.

L. de-, down + mean, low in status or value => ‘to bring down to low status or value’. This word is modelled on the word ‘debase’.

  • “I have no right, by anything I do or say, to demean a human being in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him; it is

what he thinks of himself. To undermine a man’s self-respect is a sin.”

—Antoine de Saint-Exupery

(v) to flood

Origin: L in-, in + unda, water => ‘water rushing in’

  • The plain was inundated by the overflowing river.
  • The market was inundated by Chinese goods.

Abound: (v) to be rich in, to have in great numbers.

Origin: L ab-,away + unda => ‘water flowing away’ => ‘so much water is there that it is flowing away from all sides’ => ‘to overflow’

  • The New Delhi-Chandigarh National Highway abounds in roadside dhabas.
  • The soils of north India abound in nutrients.

The adjective forms of the word are ‘abounding’ and the more common ‘abundant’. Both mean ‘overflowing.’

  • The soils of north India are abundant in nutrients.
  • The soils of north India have abundant nutrients.

Redundant: (adj) more than what is needed; needlessly repetitive.

Origin: L re-, again + unda => ‘more water than is needed’

  • The company management decided to sack the redundant employees.
  • A question in the test asked the students to write a 200–word opinion piece on the topic ‘A dog is a man’s only true friend.’ Here is a

sample of what a student wrote: ‘I do not agree with this statement. It goes against my beliefs. I believe that man is a man’s best friend.

Yes, dogs are very faithful and loyal to their masters. But only a man can be a man’s best friend. Only a man can…’

And so the student continued. You can easily see that the poor guy didn’t have much to say and was only trying to fill up space because

he had heard that many examiners award marks by measuring the width and not the content of the answer. In the five lines you’ve

read of his, line number 2 and 5 are redundant. When you have already said that you don’t agree with a statement, it is obvious that is

because the statement is against your beliefs.

Undulate: (v) to move with a wave-like motion, to have a surface that looks like a wave.

Origin: L unda, water => ‘a wave of water.’

fever is a type of fever caused by the bacteria Brucella. It is called so because it rises up, falls down, rises up and falls down.

  • The sun rose from behind the undulating hills.

Misconstrue: (v) misunderstand.

Origin: L mis-, mistaken + construen, to construct => ‘to pile together wrongly’. ‘Construe’ and ‘construct’ are brothers.

(n) a man who has affairs and sex with many women; a womanizer.

  • The 34-year-old businessman was a philanderer. If some friend advised him to be faithful to his wife, he would brush it off saying, “ek se mera kya hoga?” (“How will I be satisfied with one?”)

Bevy: (n) a group of birds or people.

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