Published: 03rd November 2019
How a tragedy led to the discovery of new words and phrases
Albert P' Rayan discusses the Indian English word 'borewell' and also decodes the meanings of 'nail-biting' and 'nerve-wracking'
I am writing this column while watching on TV the mourning of the death of two-year-old Sujith Wilson who fell into and was stuck in an abandoned borewell on October 25. Ever since the tragedy struck the village of Nadukattupatti in Tamilnadu, the news spread fast and everyone across the state started praying for the safety of the 2-year-old child. The hashtags #SaveSujith #prayforsujith trended for four days and on the fifth day, the hashtags #SorrySujith and #RIPSujith flooded social media. Humanity is still alive.
A reader of this column writes from Tiruchi: “I came across the words ‘nail-biting’ and ‘nerve-wracking’ while reading a news report on the fate of a child who has been trapped in a borewell. Please discuss the meaning of these words in your column.” While going through the various reports on the tragic situation, I came across many useful words and phrases. First, let me discuss the word ‘borewell’ and then ‘nail-biting’ and ‘nerve-wracking’.
‘Borewell’ is an Indian English word. It refers to ‘a pipe that is put into a hole that has been bored in the ground, and used with a pump in order to get water from under the ground’. The word is not found in many standard dictionaries. The word ‘borehole’ is a commonly used word in English speaking countries.
If any situation causes anxiety or tension, we describe it as ‘nail-biting’. In the case of Sujith, ever since he fell into the borewell, it has been a nail-biting wait for his parents and relatives. They want the rescue operation to be over soon and the child to be saved. The wait causes anxiety and tension in everyone who is concerned about the safety of the child. So, we describe the wait as ‘nail-biting wait’.
If something makes us feel very excited or nervous in a way that we don’t know when and how something is going to be over, then we describe such a situation as nail-biting. The term collocates with these words: finish, battle, wait, moment, excitement, suspense, victory, situation, frustration, etc. Here are examples:
• I am sure we will have some nail-biting moments during the match.
• After a nail-biting battle, they rescued those who were trapped in the building.
The word ‘nerve-wracking’ or ‘nerve-racking’ is also similar in meaning to ‘nail-biting’. A situation is described as ‘nerve-wracking’ if it causes stress and anxiety and makes people worried. If a task is difficult to do and causes a lot of tension and worries for those who are involved in it, then we can describe it as ‘nerve-wracking’. Here are examples of how the word is used in sentences:
• The rehearsal for next week’s convocation ceremony was a nerve-wracking experience.
• We were all waiting outside the operation theatre. It was a nerve-wracking moment for us.
An incident, story or experience that causes great distress and sadness can be described as ‘heart-rending’.
• I received a heart-rending email from a colleague.