Published: 14th September 2019
Finding the holes in an argument: Tracing multiple uses of a word
Albert P' Rayan explores the different meanings of the word, 'hole'. In this column, he answers a couple of questions for which he was searching for an answer.
Some years ago, I came across a novel with the title A Life Full of Holes. The Moroccan novel written by Driss ben Hamed Charhadi and translated into English by Paul Bowles received some great reviews. It was described as ‘one of the most unusual literary innovations ever produced’. I was fascinated by the title. What does the phrase ‘full of holes’ in the title mean? Has the term ‘holes’ been used figuratively? These were a couple of questions for which I sought an answer.
The word ‘hole’ has different meanings. The primary meaning is ‘an opening through something’. It also has the following figurative meanings. Look at these sentences:
- He always looks sad. Probably, his father’s death a month ago has left a hole in his life.
- Ajit Doval’s media briefing on Kashmir was full of holes (The Wire)
In the first sentence above, ‘hole’ refers to something that is missing. In the second sentence, the phrase ‘be full of holes’ means flaws or unsound explanations. If an argument, idea, logic or explanation is full of holes, it is unsound and flawed. When someone’s argument is not convincing, we say it is full of holes. Here are a few more examples of how the phrase is used in sentences:
- Universe theory is full of holes.
- The student’s explanation is full of holes.
The expression “cock-and-bull story” also means the same. When someone gives an explanation as an
excuse for having done or not done something, then we say it is a cock-and-bull story.
- She always comes late and gives me some cock-and-bull story.
- I am fed up with your cock-and-bull story.
The terms made-up story, trumped-up story, fake news, concoction can also be used as substitutes for
- I didn’t expect you to share this type of made-up stories.
- The activist has been arrested on a trumped-up charge but he has fire in the belly to fight the unjust system.
What is the meaning of the expression ‘fire in the (one’s) belly’? The idiom refers to a person’s powerful sense of ambition or determination. Look at these examples:
- Actress Parineeti Chopra says that fire in the belly is important for an actor.
- I have got the fire in my belly and I am sure I will win the competition.
A similar expression to the idiom ‘fire in the belly’ is ‘to be fired up’. It means ‘to be very excited’ or ‘to be very enthusiastic’. Example:
- When he heard the news that he won the dance competition, he was fired up.
- She was so fired up when I discussed the proposal with her.
Whenever I come across the idiom ‘fire in the belly’, I am reminded of the commonly used idiom ‘butterfly in the stomach’. When we are anxious and have a nervous feeling in our stomach, we can say that we have/get butterflies in the stomach. Look at these examples:
- When I asked the student why he didn’t want to propose vote of thanks, he said, ‘I got butterflies in my stomach’.
- It is quite natural for anyone to get butterflies on the day of examinations.