Do you know the usage of all the English words in your dictionary?

Several terms in British English are often changed to both mean and depict things that signify something different than that of the original meaning
Several words have different usages but are not known to learners of the English language
Several words have different usages but are not known to learners of the English language

This week’s column answers readers’queries about some usages in English. Usage refers to the way in which a word or phrase is normally used by the users of a particular language. What is the meaning of the expression ‘back to back’? I have heard people use the phrase ‘back to back’ to refer to making photocopies on both sides of a sheet of paper. Is it correct?

The meanings of the expression ‘back to back’ are not clearly understood by many learners of English. The term can function as an adjective, noun and adverb. As an adjective, it has primarily two different meanings. The three words in the expression are hyphenated. Look at these examples:

i. The recent back-to-back victories of the Indian cricket team have boosted the confidence of the players. 

ii. There are three rows of back-to-back houses in the newly formed township. In the first example, it means ‘consecutive’, that is, one after another without any defeat in between. In the second example, it means ‘facing in opposite directions’.

 Back-to-back houses are houses which face opposite directions so that their backs are either joined or separated by a narrow alley. As an adverb, the three words in the expression are not hyphenated. Here are examples:

i. The students were asked to arrange the chairs so that they can sit back to back. (facing in opposite directions)

ii. The interview panel interviewed ten candidates back to back and they had their break only at 1 pm. (consecutively)

In British English ‘back-to-back’ can also be used as a noun. It refers to a back-to-back house.

i. There are 20 back-to-backs in our street.

ii. Is it to safe to live in a back-to-back?

Is it correct to use the phrase ‘back to back’ to refer to making photocopies on both sides of a sheet of paper?

It is a very common expression in India but I have not come across the term used by native speakers to refer to photocopying. The common terms used are ‘two-sided’, ‘double-sided’, ‘dual-side’ and ‘both-sides’.

i. How do you make a two-sided copy?

ii. To make 2-sided copies, configure the 2-sided copy settings before scanning the original.

iii. Dual-side copy helps to save paper. What is the difference between “reportedly” and “allegedly”?

“Reportedly” is used to express the speaker’s belief that the information given is not necessarily true. It is reported by some people or media but the authenticity of the information has not been verified. Look at these authentic examples:

i. Nirav Modi has reportedly shot off a letter to the Punjab National Bank accusing it of jumping the gun by going public with the unpaid debt of his companies.

ii. US forces reportedly killed more than 100 Russian mercenaries inside Syria. “Allegedly” is used to convey that something is claimed to have taken place, although there is no proof.

i. The student who committed suicide was allegedly slapped by a teacher in front of other students.

ii. The three-member gang was allegedly killed in an encounter. Other words that are synonyms of “reportedly” and “allegedly” are assumedly, supposedly, purportedly, presumably, What is the meaning of the expression ‘jump the gun’?

It is an informal expression. It is used as a verb to refer to doing something before the proper or appropriate time. In other words, it means to act prematurely or to be overhasty. The expression is believed to come from running races which begin with the firing of a gun into the air. Sometimes, some racers may start running prematurely without waiting for the gun sound. Such racers are said to have jumped the gun. 

i. I know you wanted to speak to the woman but I am afraid I've jumped the gun.

ii. Let’s wait and watch. It is not good to jump the gun.

“I don’t want to jump the gun. I don’t want to talk about that. There’s a lot of dirty pool played at the election, meaning the election is rigged.” – Donald Trump

(Albert P' Rayan is an ELT resource person and a Professor of English)

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