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IE wal- to be strong

The Ramayana has a character called ‘Bali’ (South Indians call him Vali) who had immeasurable strength. He was the king of the vaanars, one of whom was Hanuman. Bali had a boon that whoever fought with him would lose half of his strength to him. He was ultimately killed by Rama, who was a sympathizer of Bali’s younger brother, Sugreeva.


The Hindi words nirbal and abla mean ‘without bal (strength), weak’, which is exactly what the Latin debilis (de-bil-is) means too; hence the word debility. When a man recovers his strength after a debilitating disease, he is said to be convalescing.


A man whose mind stays on his diseases 24X7 is a valetudinarian. Whenever you go to meet him, his poor health is all that he can talk about and after a few visits, you beat your head in frustration—“how can anybody talk about just one thing all the time?” And then you wonder. If you, who visit this guy just once in a while, are feeling so exasperated, what would be the condition of his family members? “The poor fellows!” you sigh in sympathy.


‘Balwant’ means strong in Hindi. Sardarni Balwant Kaur lived up to her name when a few men in her bogey got up, took out guns from under their kurtas and started ordering everybody to quietly hand over all their cash and jewellery. Instead of timidly obeying them like everybody else, she tried to wrest the gun of the dacoit who was ordering her. All the passengers in the bogey stared, the women in amazement, the men in ambivalence, as she valiantly fought the uneven battle. She was old and alone, the dacoits were armed and five. They soon managed to overpower her but the amazon kept struggling. One of the dacoits was taking aim at her chest when thuck! A cricket ball hit his head from behind. He winced and turned about. The little boy two seats away was lookingdefiantly at him. Leonine in rage and shouting expletives, he lunged at the child but two young women stood up in his way. Then, within a moment, everyone got up and threw themselves at the discombobulated dacoits and snatched their guns and tied them up and locked them in the toilet.


The passengers were ecstatic! They lionized the old woman whose courage, they said, had prevailed over the armed dacoits. “It is not my courage that has prevailed,” she laughed, “but your unity. I should be the one to thank you all, because you validated my faith in humanity. You are not my kin; you could just have looked on as they killed me. But you did not. Thank you my dears!”


The dacoits were handed over to the Railway Police at the next station. The journey continued amid stories and songs. The whole bogey seemed to have become one big family whose matriarch was thebenevolent (and balwant!) Balwant Kaur. As her station came nearer, and concomitant with it, her valediction, everybody grew so sad that she gave them her address and asked them to drop by any time and promised to stay in touch.


IE poti- powerful, lord

The pati of an Indian woman is her master and her lord. The rashtrapati is the master of the nation and a crorepati, of crores.


The Persians called their kings baadshah or padishaah and the Turks, pasha. All these words came from the Old Persian pati.

In Latin, this root gave rise to the following words:


Potis-1: potential, potent, omnipotent

Potis-2: prepotent, potentate

Potis-3: puissant, impuissant


The words ‘possible’ and ‘possessions’ too are from the same root. Possible means ‘to be able, to have the power’ and the things that you have a power over are called your possessions.


Latin fortis strong

‘Force’ is strength. A ‘fort’ is a building that is made strong by the presence of troops, arms and ammunition. When we ‘comfort’ a sad friend, we try to strengthen his weak spirits. And, an ‘effort’ is an exertion of our physical strength. 


(Effort= ex-, out, + fortis)

The other fortis words are:

Forte, fortitude, fortify

Latin vincere to conquer

The ancient Romans used to say Amor vincit omnia. Love conquers all.


Debilitate: (n) weaken; (n) debility: weakness.

Origin: L de-, down + -bel-, strength

  • Old age brings physical debility and failing senses.
  • Corruption is like a cancer. This, more than the threat of external enemies, will debilitate and disable us as a nation.


Convalesce: (v) to recover strength after illness. The one who is convalescing is called a convalescent.

Origin: L con-, + valescere, to grow strong

  • The convalescent, once cured, often forgets his illness.
  • Riled by the large crowd of visitors outside the convalescing minister’s room, the doctor ordered them to not disturb his patient for three days. “You want him to recuperate fast, right? So, let him rest.”


Valetudinarian: (adj) sickly, weak, excessively worried about his poor health; (n) such a person.

Origin: L valere, to be strong -> valetudo, state of srength => ‘state of health’ => ‘one excessively worried about his state of health.’


Timid: (adj) one who lacks self-confidence, becomes easily afraid.

Origin: L timere, to fear.

  • “Don’t worry beta, the dog will not say anything. Scuffy, say hello to Rahul!” Forced by his elders, seven-year-old Rahul timidly lowered his hand to touch the dog, but the moment the dog tried to sniff his trousers, he jumped away in alarm.
  • Two other words from this root are intimidate and timorous.


Wrest: (v) to snatch; to obtain by effort.

Origin: Related with wrist.

  • “Do what you can.” The leader of the labour union challenged the management of the factory. “But we won’t let you wrest our rights.”
  • The Congress wrested Rajasthan from the BJP.


Ambivalence: (n) state of being in two minds about something; wanting to do something, yet not wanting to do it; loving a person, yet disliking him too, etc.

Origin: L ambi-, both + valentia, strength => ‘both sides of the argument are equally strong’

  • The men are watching Balwant Kaur’s struggle in ambivalence because they know that they too should be fighting the dacoits but still they do not dare to. They are debating “Should I? should I not?”
  • “I don’t know what I want,” the daughter replied sadly when her father asked her what her career plans were. Her father smiled. “It’s perfectly all right,” he said. “Most of the most interesting people I know were just as ambivalent at your age. Quite a few of them remain so after twenty years.”


Valiant: (adj) brave. Noun: valour, heroic courage, bravery

Origin: L valere, to be strong => valor, strength, value

  • The inspector fought the terrorists with valour without regard to his own life.


Amazon: (n) a female warrior.


Leonine: (adj) like a lion.

Origin: L leo, lion


Lunge: (v) make a sudden forward movement; (n) such a movement.


Discombobulate: (v) to confuse completely.


Lionize: (v) to treat like a celebrity.

Origin: lion + -ize => ‘to treat like the king of the jungle.’


Prevail: (v) to dominate over; to be widespread; to successfully convince.

Origin: L pre-, first + valere, to be strong => ‘to be number one in strength’

  • The child prevailed upon her mother to get her a laptop.


Validate: (v) to confirm.

Origin: L valere, to be strong -> validus, strong. Validate means ‘to make strong’


Valediction: (n) farewell

Origin: L valere, to be strong and well + dicere, to say => ‘to say “be well”’ => ‘farewell’


Potent: (adj) powerful, effective; (n) potency.

Origin: L potis, powerful

  • The pharma company claimed to develop a potent vaccine against HIV.


Omnipotent: (adj) all-powerful, having unlimited power.

Origin: L omnis, all + potis, powerful

  • God is omnipotent.


Prepotent: (adj) having more power and influence than others.

Origin: L pre-, first + potis, powerful

  • The Tatas are a prepotent business house of India.


Potentate: (n) one who possesses more power than all others, a ruler.

Origin: L potis, powerful

  • The old man was the potentate of the house. Without his permission, even a bird could not flap its wings there.


Puissant: (adj) powerful

Origin: L posse, to have power

  • The brave police officer dared to disregard the puissance of the politician and investigated the cases of corruption against the man honestly.


Impuissant: (adj) lacking power, weak.

  • Though India is a democracy and the people are said to have all the power, a common man feels impuissant and unable to bring any real change.


Forte: (n) strength, one thing that a person is really good at.

Origin: L fortis, strong => ‘strong point’

  • Govinda’s forte is comedy.
1606 Fortitude: (n) strength of mind that makes one battle all difficulties with courage.

Origin: L fortis, strong => ‘the state of being strong in the face of difficulties’

  • He was awarded the Vir Chakra for his fortitude in the battle.


Fortify: (v) to make strong.

Origin: L fortis, strong

  • The security in-charge recruited five more guards and installed biosensors at different doors to fortify the security of the industrialist’s residence.
  • The Virani family did not eat white bread. They only ate bread that was fortified with Vitamins and dietary fibres.

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