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Latin or-
to speak
In Latin 'mouth' meaning is 'or-' and 'to speak' meaning is 'orare'


When he was in his early teens, Sriram Mathur had toured Europe with his parents. There, one evening, his father had taken him to the performance of an oratorio called ‘Oedipus’. The young Sri had been so impressed by the oratorio’s story, and by its music, that he had persuaded his father to buy him its libretto. (“Papa please buy me the text. Otherwise only the memory of this fine performance will be left with me, and one cannot trust memory papa, can one? Papa, please!”) He had reread the libretto many times while growing up and had even tried to write his own version of it.

Today, he had been invited as an orator to a seminar. His topic was ‘Fate and Man.’ Instead of giving boring speeches like the other speakers, he recounted to his thankful audience a story – the story of Oedipus.

“Once upon a time in ancient Greece, there lived a prince named Oedipus. He was the much-adored, only child of King Polybus and Queen Merope, who ruled over the city-state of Corinth. Oedipus too loved his parents dearly.


‘Hah! Parents? They are not your parents. You are not their son. You are adopted! Do you hear me? Adopted!’ A drunkard blabbered to the prince one evening.

Oedipus boxed him down and squashed him for his effrontery. How dare he say that about him, about his parents! When he told his parents, they too were outraged and told him that he had served that man right. When she saw a few hours later that Oedipus was still upset, Queen Merope chided him for taking a useless man’s inebriated words so seriously.

Oedipus knew what that man said could not be true. Yet, his words kept rankling; he could not sleep that night.

Early next morning, he went to the Oracle of Delphi and asked if he was or not the son of the King and the Queen.

Instead of answering his disturbed mind, the Oracle dropped a new bombshell. She said that he was going to kill his father and marry his mother…!!!

Oedipus was flustered, horrified, at the unexpected prophecy. No! He could do no such thing! He rushed his chariot towards the adjacent city of Thebes. He would never return to Corinth …would never let Fate make him do those heinous crimes!

The entrance to Thebes was guarded by the Sphinx. She was a monster with the head and breasts of a woman, the body of a lioness and the wings of an eagle. She asked one riddle to all the passersby:

It has four legs at morn, at mid-day two, in evening three; and more the legs it has, the weaker it will be.


No one had ever answered it correctly and so the Sphinx had strangled and devoured every single visitor to the city. Now, she posed the same question to Oedipus and gloated in the anticipation of having such a handsome fellow as lunch.

Oedipus said the answer was Man, who crawled on all fours as a baby, then walked upright, and needed a stick in old age.


It was the right answer! The Sphinx had been vanquished! She threw herself off her high rock and died.

The people of Thebes hailed Oedipus as their hero and said that only he deserved to be their new king. Their previous king, Laius, had been killed a day ago by a gang of robbers. What a lucky coincidence, Oedipus smiled. Then he saw Queen Jacosta, Laius’ widow. She was beautiful! The people of Thebes suggested that since he was their King now, he should marry their Queen too. “Of course!” he thought. “Only a fool would say no to her. Jacosta. What a lovely name!” They were married that evening.

Years passed by happily. Two sons and two daughters were born to Oedipus and Jacosta.


Then, plague struck the city.

Oedipus consulted the Delphic Oracle for guidance. The Oracle said that the pestilence would end only when the murderer of King Laius was killed or exiled. Eager to find out that felon, he sent for a blind prophet, Tiresias. Tiresias came to the court but entreated him not to pursue the matter. Oedipus was inexorable. “How can you say that? People are dying each moment and you ask me not to pursue the matter? I refuse to do so and command you to tell me who the murderer is. Out with it, now!” Tiresias was much distressed and dithered a lot but when Oedipus threatened to hang him, he said that Oedipus himself was the murderer!

He? How could that be? Surely the prophet was wrong? He had never even met Laius. How could he have murdered him? Why did all these oracles and prophets say things to upset him?

Queen Jacosta saw him worried. “Cheer up, my dear,” she said tenderly. “Prophets are not always right. Look at me. I’ve long stopped taking them seriously. You know, many years ago, when I was pregnant with Laius’ child, we visited an oracle. He told us that Laius would be killed by his son, but see! He was wrong! We killed our son as soon as he was born. Laius lived for long after that and was killed only by bandits on the way to Delphi.”

Delphi? Oedipus was thunderstruck. “Tell me how Laius looked!” Jacosta was surprised to see how agitated Oedipus became as she described the appearance of her former husband to him. He immediately sent for the former servant who was the only eye-witness to Laius’ murder.

Just then, a messenger arrived from Corinth with the news of King Polybus’ demise. Oedipus heaved a sigh of relief—at least one half of the prophesy could never be true now…but, he said in great misery, he still could not go back...even when his mother needed him the most…because he was fated to commit incest with her. The messenger tried to ameliorate his pain by telling him that he could go to Queen Merope because she was not his real mother. “I know,” the old messenger said fondly, “for I was the one who took you to them. I had found you lying forsaken near Thebes.”

A black fear started gripping Oedipus and Jacosta. Then the witness of King Laius’ death arrived. He was Laius’ most trusted servant, the same man to whom he had given his infant son to be killed. Now, when Jacosta asked him strictly, the wizened old man confessed that he had been unable to kill the child and had instead left him on the road. He also confirmed that King Laius had been killed by Oedipus.

That day when he had decided to leave Corinth forever and flee to Thebes, Oedipus had encountered a chariot coming from Thebes’ direction. In the stupid ego fuelled by his anxiety, he had not stepped off the road for that chariot. Neither had the other man. This had led to an altercation between them and Oedipus had angrily thrust his sword into him.

He now blanched at the realization that he had killed his own father! Jacosta ran to her room. By the time Oedipus reached her, she had hung herself. He took out a few pins from her gown and gouged out his eyes. Thus blinded, he left the palace and spent his remaining years as a wanderer.

“Thus, my friends,” Sriram said in his peroration, “Fate is inexorable. It does not change, no matter what you do or how much you pray or run away from it. It is ineluctable. You cannot escape from it. You may try to shut the beast within four walls but it will find a little orifice and wriggle out and roar in front of you. So, it is better accept Fate than fight it
 Fatalism. Thank you.”


IE bha- to speak
What was the first word that came to your mind when you saw this heading? I would be glad if you said bhaasha. And, when you have been speaking for too long, what do your friends tell you? “Achha baba,ab apna bhaashan band kar!”
Bhajan too is from the same root. Stop putting so much stress on the bh, and you get baani, or vaani, meaning speech, voice.


The English word ‘ban’ is a cousin of these Sanskrit words. Initially, it simply meant a proclamation. Then it became ‘a public condemnation’ and then, outright prohibition. The words bannsbanish, banal and contraband are all derived from ban.

Now, the bh sound of the Indo-European roots is always faithfully reflected in Sanskrit, but the Romans would change it to f- and the Greeks to ph-. Just have a look at the table below:







To speak






To speak



Saying, speech



Voice, sound

An ‘infant’ is a child who cannot yet speak. The ‘infantry’ in an army comprised of boy-soldiers, that is, the junior-most fighters in the army who, therefore, got no horses and fought on foot.


‘Fables’ are spoken stories and a ‘fabulous’ performance is so good, so unbelievably good, that it seems not real but a part of a fable. Affable old men, ineffable secrets and casual confabulations with neighbours too share this root with fables.

Then we have the following words:

Bha-: prefaceprophecyaphasia

Bha-fa: euphemismblaspheme

Bha-fa: fame, defameinfamy

A ‘telephone’ brings us sound from far off (G. tele-, distance). A ‘symphony’ is a pleasant playing together of many sounds. A cacophony is just the opposite. Euphony too is from the same root, unsurprisingly, and so is anthem, surprisingly.

Latin loqui to speak
A man who speaks too much is loquacious.


When, leaning over their common wall, two neighbours ‘speak with one another’ for a few minutes, their conversation is called a colloquy.

We speak with other people in both formal and informal settings. A colloquium is a setting for formal speeches. An informal speech, as we’ve already seen, is called a colloquy.


Oratorio: (n) a musical poem which tells a story through words and music without using any costumes or dramatic actions.

Origin: L orare, to speak => ‘a poem that is sung’


Libretto: (n) the text of an opera, usually published as a book or a booklet.

Origin: L liber, book

Another word from the root liber is ‘library’, the place where books are kept.


Orator: (n) a public speaker.

Origin: L orare, to speak


Recount: (v) to count again; to tell again.

A person who recounts a story is called a raconteur.


Adore: (v) to love or like somebody very much


Blabber: (v) to talk meaninglessly; to tell a secret.


Squash: (v) to crush into a pulp.

Origin: L ex-, out + quash


Effrontery: (n) shameless boldness.

Origin: L ex-, out + frontem, front => ‘to strike at the front’

  • Akbar was enraged at Anarkali’s effronterous declaration in the royal court, “jab pyaar kiya toh darnaa kya; pyaar kiya koi chori nahin ki, chhup chuup aahein bharnaa kya.”

See also, affront.


Chide: (v) to scold, to express disapproval.


Inebriated: (adj) drunk


Rankle: (v) (of wounds, unpleasantness, etc.) to not become better, to continue to irritate or anger greatly.


Oracle: (n) the person through whom the gods communicated their message; the message thus communicated; a person who gives very wise advise

Origin: L orare, to pray => ‘answer to the prayer’


Heinous: (adj) hateworthy

  • The judge was especially severe in his sentence because he felt that the criminal had shown no guilt for his heinous crimes.

Sphinx: (n) The word is now used for anybody who seems as full of unsolvable puzzles as the Sphinx. Hence, today, sphinx means ‘an enigmatic or mysterious person’.

(n) mystery

  • Can you figure out which Hindi song means ‘life is an enigma?’ Zindagi kaisi hai paheli hai, kabhi toh hasaaye, kabhi yeh rulaaye
    The adjective form of Sphinx is Sphinx-like, meaning ‘mysterious.’
  • He was intrigued by the Sphinx-like smile of Rebecca.

Devour: (v) to gobble up hungrily.

Origin: L de-, down + vorare, to eat => ‘to thrust down the throat’

  • The child devoured the Ruskin Bond books.

Another word from the root vorare is voracious.

Voracious: (adj) extremely hungry.

  • The child was a voracious reader of Ruskin Bond books.

Pestilence: (n) a widespread, deadly disease; a plague.


Felon: (n) a person who is convicted of a serious crime. A serious crime is called a felony. Opposite: misdemeanor, peccadillo.

Misdemeanor: (n) a minor crime.


Entreat: (v) to ask for something in a very sincere or begging manner.


Exorable: (adj) one who can be persuaded by repeated requests.

Origin: L ex-, out + orare, to pray => ‘one who is moved by prayers’

The opposite of exorable is inexorable, meaning ‘a person who is totally unmoved by prayers or tears or requests.’


Dither: (v) hesitate


Demise: (n) death


Ameliorate: (v) to improve, make better.


Wizened: (adj) old, shrunk and wrinkled with age.


Blanch: (v) become white.

  • The French version of the novel ‘The White Tiger’ is titled ‘Le tigre blanc.’

Gouge: (v) to tear out; to overcharge.

  • Any shopkeeper who sells goods above their Maximum Retail Price is guilty of gouging his customers.

Peroration: (n) the conclusion of a speech.

Origin: α per, through + orare => ‘to speak through’ => ‘to speak to the end’.


Ineluctable: (adj) that which you cannot escape from.

  • Death is ineluctable.

Orifice: (n) a small mouth-like opening.


Fatalism: (n) the belief that you cannot escape your fate.

  • The following dialogue of the character Anand in the eponymous movie exemplify fatalism. “Zindagi aur maut uparwale ke haath
    hai jahanpana, jise naa aap badal sakte hai naa mein. Hum sab toh rangmanch ki kathputlia hai, jiski dor uparwale ke haath bandhi hai.
    Kab, kaun, kaise uthega, yeh koi nahi jaanta.”

Banns: The banns of marriage, commonly known simply as “the banns”, (from an Old English word meaning “to summon”) are the public announcement in a parish church that a marriage is going to take place between two specified persons.

  • The purpose of banns is to enable anyone to raise any legal impediment to it, so as to prevent marriages that are legally invalid, either under canon law or under civil law.

Banish: (v) to force to leave a country or place by official order.

Origin: ban => ‘to ban a person from entering that place again.’

  • The father banished his son saying, “Is ghar ke darwaaze, tumhare liye hamesha ke liye band ho gaye hain” (“the doors of this house are now closed to you forever.”)

Banal: (adj) dull, boring, commonplace. A banal statement is called a banality.

  • “How was the movie?” Jai, who could not go, asked his friends who had just returned. “The same old story,” one of them yawned. “The hero and the heroine start a stupid love story, her father is an old enemy of his father, there are fights and love wins in the end.” Another friend grimaced: “In short, a banal story. The acting was pathetic too.” The third now chipped in. “The dialogues, the scenes were all clichéd. Tell me Jai, what does the heroine say to the villain when he kidnaps her? ” “Bhagwaan ke liye chhod de mujhe?” Jai guessed.
    “Eggjactly!” His friends laughed.”Now tell me what does the hero say to the villain when he comes to rescue her?” Jai said, “Obviously!
    Kutte kaminey main tera khoon pee jaaunga!” Then, one of his friends picked up the towel lying on Jai’s bed, put it on his head like a dupatta and asked Jai, “What does the hero say when he takes the heroine to his mother for the first time?” Jai got up, pulled another friend of his along and stood deferentially before his toweled ‘mother’. “Dekho maa, main kise laaya hoon!” Everyone cracked up with laughter. “You are spot on, Jai. That’s exactly what our banal hero said too. So, what does his mother say?” Jai took the towel on his own head, sat on the bed, took the hand of the ‘girlfriend’ and said, “Aao beti, mere paas baitho!” Ho-ho-ho. Ha-ha-ha. All of them were uproarious by now.

Grimace: (v) to make a face.

Clichéd: (adj) banal. A cliched statement is called a cliché.

(adj) laughing very loudly; (n) uproar, meaning ‘very noisy situation.’

Origin: roar + up


Contraband: (n) a banned thing.

  • The doctor had explained to Parimal’s family that his diet should be very light after the operation. Yet, they brought tiffins full of goodies. The nurse on duty had to seize the contraband.

Affable: (adj) friendly, easy to talk to

  • Shakuntala is an affable person. It’s a pleasure talking to her.
  • Shakuntala Devi spells out her purpose of life to make Maths an affable and joyful experience for everybody.

Ineffable: (adj) that which cannot be spoken.

Origin: α in-, not + ex-, out + fari, to speak => ‘that which cannot be spoken out’

  • For a pativrata Bharatiya naari, her pati is her parmeshwar and so his name is ineffable.
  • Tears of ineffable delight welled in her eyes. “I can’t tell you how happy I am,she barely managed to say.

Confabulation: (n) discussion

  • The Government took stock of the situation at a high-level meeting with the Prime Minister at his residence. Besides, the Prime Minister, those who attended the confabulations included the Defence Minister, the Law Minister, the Parliamentary Affairs Minister and the Home Minister.

Preface: (n) an introduction; (v) to say something as an introduction to the main theme; (adj) prefatory, meaning ‘introductory.’

  • In his prefatory note, the author explained what the book was all about, why he had written itand how the reader should read it.
  • She always prefaces her lectures with Urdu couplets.

Prophecy: (n) prediction.

Related words:

Prophesy: (v) to make a prediction.

Prophet: (n) one who habitually makes predictions.

Prophetic: (adj) related with a prophecy or a prophet.

  • “You people think he is a wastrel but mark my words, one day, he will do better than anyone of you. He will be an IAS officer or something,” Sudhi’s uncle prophesied about her younger brother. No one really believed that Deepu could ever be an IAS officer. Ten years later, however, the prophecy did come true.
  • “The whole world will bow before the greatness of this boy, you just see,” the saint said prophetically to the young couple who had come come to seek his blessings for their newborn son. That boy grew up to became a notorious criminals. Prophecies do not always come true.

Aphasia: (n) inability to speak.


Euphemism: (n) a polite and nice-sounding way of saying something that you will feel awkward or embarrassed or rude saying directly.

Origin: Gk eu-, good + pheme, saying => ‘speaking good words’

  • A few examples of euphemisms are:
    Toilet: washroom, restroom
    Died: passed away
    Crippled: differently abled
    Mass-murder of minorities: ethnic cleansing:
  • ‘Casting couch’ is a euphemism for sexual favours demanded from struggling actors as a precondition to casting them in films or serials.

Blaspheme: (v) to speak rudely or in a fun-making manner about something that other people respect greatly. Blame evolved from blaspheme!

  • “Rajan ki maa, just come here and see what your darling son is blaspheming about! Two years in America and he thinks that he is the most learned man and we are mere illiterate cowherds,” Rajan’s father ranted upon Rajan’s comment that all the Hindu gods and goddesses were mythological and did not exist in reality, and never did.
  • “Rajan ki maa, just come here and hear your son’s blasphemies!”

Defame: (v) to harm the reputation of.

  • The minister accused in the corruption scandal denied his involvement and said that it was only an attempt of the opposition to defame him.

Infamy: (n) state of being famous for a wrong reason; notoriety.

  • Osama Bin Laden achieved international infamy after the attack on the World Trade Center towers in America.

Cacophony: (n) unpleasant noise.

  • The writer moved to his village home for an year, far away from the cacophony of the city life, to be able to concentrate on his novel.
  • A rock song is music to some and cacophony to others.

Euphony: (n) sweet, musical sound.

  • The euphonous voice of Lata Mangeshkar makes each song of hers truly charming.
  • Noted for its euphony even when it is spoken, Urdu is particularly charming when recited as a poem or sung as a song.
  • A respectful hush prevailed at the auditorium, while the intoxicating euphony from his violin mesmerized the audience.

Mesmerize: (v) hypnotize


Anthem: (n) a song of praise of patriotism

  • Can you name the only person to have written the national anthems of two countries? The answer is Rabindranath Tagore. The national anthem of India, Jana gana mana, and that of Bangladesh, amar shonaar Bangla, are both written by him.

Loquacious: (adj) talkative

Origin: L loqui, to speak. The word ‘talkative’ too has ‘talk’ in it. Parallely, the Hindi word for talkative, baatuni, has ‘baat’, meaning ‘talk’, in it.

  • Who is the most loquacious character of the film Sholay?
    The answer has to be Basanti. Her mouth goes off at a rate of like a 1,000 words per minute. There is a scene soon after Jai and Veeru come to her village. They are going by her tonga and she as always, is prattling non-stop. Jai is lying in the back and Veeru is taking an avid interest in what she’s saying. After quite a long time, she asks, “yoon ki, tumne meraa naam nahin poochha?” Jai, who has been keeping mum till now, asks from the back, “tumhaara naam kya hai Basanati?” And, Veeru ironically replies, “Chup be! Jab bhi dekho bak bak karta rehta hai!”

Prattle: (v) to talk meaninglessly. Synoym: babble, chatter

Avid: (adj) eager


Colloquial: (adj) conversational

Origin: L com-, together + loqui, to speak => ‘to speak together’ => ‘to talk’

  • A policewallah is called a mamu in colloquial Hindi. In fact, the word policewallah is itself a colloquialism for the formally correct ‘policeman.’ In India today, colloquial English is mixed with Hindi words, and vice versa. When we write down our sentences, we still take care to write in either proper English, or proper Hindi, but while speaking, we casually mix the two. The resultant informal language is called Hinglish. Hinglish is a colloquial language. Examples: Mom maani nahin, yeh dil maange more, mujhe doubt ho raha hai, I am sure ke wohi hai, I am bindaas, oh bhaiyaa all is well, God tusin great ho.

Colloquialism: (n) a word or expression used in colloquial but not in formal language.

Words that conveys related ideas are slang and argot

Slang: (n) informal expressions or usage of words which are not used in formal documents.

  • The word ‘cool’ has the slang meaning of ‘okay, fine or excellent.’
  • Here are a few examples of Mumbaiya slang:

I/us = apun

Dude= beedu

I’m leaving= apun kaatli maar rha hai

You leave= chal kaatli maar

Drunk= talli, tight, piyela

: (n) a formal meeting, a conference.

Origin: L com-, together + loqui, to speak => ‘to discuss’


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