Home » Languages » English (Sr. Secondary) » Write a critical letter to a columnist who writes on English usage about the unsatisfactory standard of some of her articles

Write a critical letter to a columnist who writes on English usage about the unsatisfactory standard of some of her articles

Write a critical letter to a columnist who writes on English usage about the unsatisfactory standard of some of her articles

1 November 2003


Ms. Aruna Chandra

C/o ‘The Daily Review’ Newspaper

New Delhi.

Dear Madam,

I refer to your column on English usage which appears regularly in the ‘P” newspaper. While I appreciate your efforts to educate interested readers on the nuances of the English language, I am unable to overlook the errors and shortcomings that are frequently seen in your illustrations. Some of the errors are serious enough to make your venture seem less than satisfactory.

I have as a relevant case, the latest of your presentations on idioms which appeared in the ‘P’ newspaper dated 1 November 1998.

You will agree that idioms, by definition, are usages peculiar to a language, and that, despite being able to enrich a language and to make it attractive to its users, they are themselves delicate and hence, deserve to be handled carefully. Though idioms have definite meanings they cannot be used in all contexts in which their meanings may seem relevant. Rather, like valuable ornaments, they should be used only on appropriate occasions and for particular purposes.

On this premise, I shall take up a few of your examples that I feel need improvement. In the sentence that illustrates the use of ‘flash in the pan, you have overlooked an important idea the phrase is supposed to convey — namely, success, or rather, short-lived success. You, instead, refer to quality when you say: “Mary’s first novel was a flash in the pan; she has not written anything good since.” Your statement seems to imply that quality and success go hand in hand, but do they, always? Are all things and tasks that are good, successful? If the sentence were rephrased as: “The popularity Mary’s first novel enjoyed was only a flash in the pan; none of the novels she wrote since has been successful.” would not the phrase perform its function better?

Later in the presentation, with regard to the phrase ‘to burn one’s fingers, though your explanation is correct and adequate your example flounders. In the sentence, “George, who is a professor, burnt his fingers when he started a newspaper.”, it seems as though a professor who starts a newspaper will burn his fingers! If the unnecessary clause, who is a professor is knocked out and if the sentence is rephrased as: “George, who had invested a lot of money to start a newspaper, burnt his fingers when his newspaper failed.”, will not the idea be clearer?

The modifications that I have suggested may seem out of place with the present trend to make language study as friendly and easy to the learners as possible. It may also be argued that, if idioms were to be given their due, their illustrations would be too difficult for most readers to digest. But, it should be remembered that idioms are to be used only after the user has achieved a satisfactory level of proficiency in a language. Put differently, idioms are not for all. Misuse of idioms without regard for contexts, situations, and purposes, maybe embarrassing to their users and the audience alike. With these aspects in view, you may advise your readers to be sufficiently careful while using idioms. Carelessness with idioms will fetch us exactly the opposite of what we expect of them.

Thanking you,

Yours faithfully,

(Name & Signature)

(Writer’s address)


The main objective of this website is to provide quality study material to all students (from 1st to 12th class of any board) irrespective of their background as our motto is “Education for Everyone”. It is also a very good platform for teachers who want to share their valuable knowledge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *