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Born with a silver spoon in your mouth

What is the difference between ‘interfere’ and ‘intervene’? (S. Ramanan, Madurai)

Both words consist of three syllables, and both have the stress on the final syllable. The two words are pronounced ‘in-te-VEEN’ and ‘in-te-FEAR’. Unlike the word ‘intervene’, ‘interfere’ has a negative connotation; it is normally used to show disapproval. People often accuse their parents of interfering in their life; in other words, the parents get involved in matters that are of no concern to them. In the process, they do not allow their kids to lead a life of their own. When someone ‘interferes’, he is poking his nose into another person’s business — he is getting in the way of the individual; thus, making him angry.

You may be my boss. But please don’t interfere in my work.

Our kids have kids of their own. I think you should stop interfering in their life.

When you ‘intervene’ in someone’s problem, you get involved in the hope of solving it. In this case, you may intentionally get involved, or you may be invited by the two disputing parties to help solve the problem. Neither party will have the feeling that you are poking your nose into their business. Both parties will be of the opinion that you are trying to help. The word has a positive connotation.

The Minister intervened and ensured that all teachers received their salary.

I don’t think that the UN should intervene in this matter.

How is the word ‘smidgen’ pronounced? (J. Kamakshi, Chennai)

This is a word that is mostly restricted to informal contexts. The ‘idg’ in the first syllable sounds like the ‘idge’ in ‘fridge’ and ‘bridge’, while the ‘e’ in the final syllable is pronounced like the ‘i’ in ‘bin’, ‘tin’ and ‘kin’. The word is pronounced ‘SMIJ-in’ with the stress on the first syllable. When you say that you would like a ‘smidgen’ of something, what you are suggesting is that you would like a very small amount of it. Scholars believe that the word comes from the Scottish ‘smitch’ meaning ‘very small amount; small, insignificant person’.

The kids must have been really hungry. There isn’t a smidgen of upma left.

The problem can be easily solved by someone with a smidgen of common sense.

The word can also be spelt ‘smidgeon’ and ‘smidgin’.

What is the meaning and origin of the expression ‘be born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth’? (L. Nagesh, Sholapur)

When you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you are born into a very rich family. Being wealthy, you have a very privileged upbringing, and enjoy all the things that money can buy — good food, good clothes, good education, etc.

Dileep never had to work a day in his life. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

All that you see before you is hard-earned money. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth.

At the time of christening, people sometimes shower the baby with gifts. The godparents of the child always give the baby something special. In the past, if the godparents happened to be wealthy, they usually gave their godchild a silver spoon — something which only the rich could afford.

Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.

-Mark Twain

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