Published: 11th July 2020
Learning English: What do words like 'fast-track', 'backtrack', 'back-pedal' mean?
To ‘fast-track’ means to accelerate or speed up the progress of something. The other words that can be used instead of ‘fast-track’ include hasten, quicken, rush and expedite
John: Hey Mary.
Mary: Hey John.
John: How’re things?
Mary: Not bad, not bad! The hundred-day Corona lockdown has knocked us down. Will a vaccine be available soon? Waiting for some good news.
John: The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has announced that an indigenously developed vaccine, called Covaxin, will be launched by 15th August.
Mary: Indigenously developed vaccine? What do you mean?
John: If we say something is produced or developed indigenously, we mean that it is produced within a place or country and not arriving from another place or country. Bharat Biotech, based in Hyderabad, has developed Covaxin against COVID-19. Since it is developed in India, it is called an indigenously developed vaccine.
Mary: What an explanation! By the way, do we say “vaccine for COVID-19” or “vaccine against COVID-19”? Which of the two prepositions should be used?
John: You can use either of the prepositions. For example, we can say ‘vaccine for dengue’ or ‘vaccine against dengue’. To avoid confusion, we can say ‘vaccine for protection against dengue’.
Mary: ‘For’ and ‘against’ have opposite meanings. Yet, both are used to mean the same. Doesn’t it sound funny? English must be a funny language.
John: Yes, it is. We’ll discuss the funny part of English later. Let’s discuss the vaccine, Covaxin now.
Mary: John, do you think the vaccine will be ready by 15th August?
John: The ICMR announcement has puzzled experts, scientists and the medical fraternity and they have expressed skepticism about 15 August deadline.
Mary: Puzzled? Do you mean the announcement has caused some confusion?
Mary: Why should they be puzzled?
John: Vaccines for COVID-19 are being developed by many countries but no country has announced that the vaccine would be ready by the end of the year 2020. For example, Oxford University, which is also developing a COVID-19 vaccine, states that though it has reached the final stage of clinical trials the vaccine will be ready only by the end of the year. Experts don’t understand why the ICMR is going to fast-track COVID-19 vaccine.
Mary: What do you mean by ‘fast-tracking’?
John: To ‘fast-track’ means to accelerate or speed up the progress of something. The other words that can be used instead of ‘fast-track’ include hasten, quicken, rush and expedite.
Mary: Don’t you think it is important to fast-track the clinical trials?
John: Everyone thinks that it is important. I also think it is important. But, scientists feel that clinical trials can’t be completed by 15th August. The fact is that everything can’t be fast-tracked. Trying to fast-track certain processes that shouldn’t be fast-tracked may result in a failure or disaster.
Mary: I am reminded of Warren Buffett’s quote: “No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can't produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”
John: That’s a wonderful quote. Words of wisdom, indeed. I’m sure the ICMR would backtrack on the statement.
Mary: Are we moving from fast-track to backtrack? What does the word ‘backtrack’ mean?
John: The word ‘backtrack’ literally means to go back along a path that has been just used. Figuratively, it means to say that you did not mean something that you had said earlier.
Mary: Got it. Many politicians have the habit of backtracking on their claims.
John: We can also use the word ‘backpedal’ to refer to someone reversing their opinion. The synonyms of ‘backpedal’ are change one’s mind, do a U-turn, shift your ground, sing a different song, do an about-turn.
Mary: That’s a good word. Let’s wait and see whether the ICMR backpedals its claim.
John: I’ll see you next week. Bye, now.
Mary: See you, John. Bye.