4 idioms related to war


Photo taken at the Maharaja Ranjit Singh War Museum in Ludhiana, Punjab


At times, it may seem that there is more war than peace in our working lives. Here are four idioms which may reflect what is happening at your office. See if you can use them.


  1. to cross the Rubicon

During Roman times, the modest river Rubicon marked the boundary from where Gaul (France) ended and Italy began. As a rule, Roman generals returning to Italy were ordered to disband their armies before crossing the Rubicon and entering Italian soil. Of course, the victorious and ambitious Julius Caesar thought otherwise. He crossed the Rubicon with his battle-hardened army and thus started a civil war.


To cross the Rubicon is take a decision from which there is no turning back.


By agreeing to consider the proposed changes, the Minister has crossed the Rubicon.


  1. to look daggers at somebody


Quite simply, this means to look sharply or furiously at someone.


“At the meeting, the production manager looked daggers at me. What did I do?”


  1. a loose cannon

In sixteenth-century English warships, cannons were mounted on carriages. And when the ships swayed back and forth, and moved up and down, some of these huge guns would roll about dangerously, endangering the crew.

In today’s world, a loose cannon is a person who behaves in an unpredictable way, often causing some form of disorder.  I’m sure you’ve come across at least one loose cannon in your life.

“Careful, he is known to be a loose cannon.”


  1. on the warpath

The warpath was the route North American Indians would take to meet their adversary.

Nowadays, the term has come to mean being in an aggressive mood and looking for a fight.


“Avoid Prashant. He’s on the warpath today!”


I used Dictionary of Idioms and their origins by Linda + Roger Flavell as a reference for this post. If you would like to learn more about idioms and their origins, do pick this book up.


3 tips to improve your email writing


Many people find it difficult to write effective business emails. I see two reasons for this. The first is that they are not approaching the act of writing in a methodical manner. To put it bluntly, they do not give much thought to writing an email. They write it and then press the send button. The second reason is that they do not have the language to convey what they want to say.

In this post, we’ll be tackling the first reason: that is how to approach the act of writing an email. Here are my suggestions:

1. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. 



Who are you writing this email to? Do you need to be formal or informal? How much background information should you include? Do you need to CC anyone else?

To answer all these questions. Think of a pair of shoes, that are not yours. And then, put your feet into them. Warning: it may hurt you!

If the email is for close colleagues, then you can be informal or semi-formal. If it is destined for the CEO, then perhaps you should be more towards the formal side of the scale.

If you are writing an email to colleagues who are working on the same project, then you may not need to give too much background information. However, if you are sending an email to a vendor, then you may need to give lots of background information.

2. Write short sentences 



After delivering email writing workshops for many years, this has been my number one learning. Write short sentences. Write short sentences. Write short sentences. Yes, I really cannot emphasize it enough! If you are not confident of your grammar, this piece of advice really helps. I have seen long sentences winding their way through an email. And the longer they wind, the greater the chance that they will contain grammatical errors.

Try counting the words in your sentences. You should be able to manage with seven to twelve words per sentence. Try it. You’ll thank me later 🙂

3. Think before you hit that send button



Once it’s gone, it’s gone. There have been many embarrassing situations. For instance, a message CCed to everyone, when that was not the plan. Or, someone sent a message in a fit of anger to her boss. And then minutes later, the sender regrets the language she used. Or… Well, there are so many scenarios. You may have your own example.

I know that many people cannot resist pressing that send button. After pressing it, the email has left your screen. Thank god… But, remember, it will soon show up on someone else’s screen. So ask yourself these questions. Have I edited the message? Are there any grammatical errors? Have I explained myself clearly? Is the message polite? (For polite language, you can read my post on 7 tips to soften your language . )


Keep these 3 points in mind, and your email writing skills will improve. I promise it will. (See how effective a four-word sentence is.)



Vocabulary with ‘the moon’

The Museum of the Moon The moon at Udaipur palace

Source: https://my-moon.org/installations/india-tour/

The moon has always evoked awe and  a sense of mystery. This photo is of the art installation, Museum of the Moon, which is currently touring India.

Let’s look at some idioms and words with the moon:

  1. once in a blue moon

It refers to an event which hardly ever occurs.

The principal visits us once in a blue moon.

2. moonlighting 

This word has a slight negative implication. It means working at a second job, which one does not declare to the authorities, so as to avoid paying taxes. One is doing something secretive in the dim moonlight.

3. moonshine

This term means illicit liquor. Again, it is related to something which should not be exposed to bright sunlight. And that is how the moon enters the picture.

4. over the moon

When you’re over the moon, you’re really happy and excited.

5. to promise the moon 

Our politicians often do this before an election. To promise the moon is to make promises which would be very difficult to keep.

6. asking for the moon 

If you want or expect too much, then, yes: you are asking for the moon.

The client is so unreasonable; she’s asking for the moon!

If you are in Delhi, you can ask for and even get the moon (well, sort of). Do visit the Museum of the Moon at British Council in Connaught Place. It’s on till the 1st of March.

moon cp

And here is a link for more stunning photographs of the moon on earth:






7 tips to soften your language


In informal language, you can say just about anything. And you don’t necessarily have to be polite.

This is not the case when using language at the workplace. Here the language needs to be more controlled, structured, and polite.

Let’s look at seven words or phrases which can soften your language:

  1. Thank you 

Use this phrase as often as possible. Don’t worry, the universe is not running out of thank you’s.

When you receive an email from a colleague, acknowledge it with: Thanks, Janet!

Or, if it has to be more formal: Thank you for sending the updated file.

If you are corresponding with someone outside your office, you can use ‘thank you’ as a form of acknowledgement.

Instead of writing:

This is to acknowledge the receipt of your application dated 12.02.18,

you could write:

Thank you for sending your application on 12.02.18.

Doesn’t that sound better?

2. Please

Pulease… Is used by teenagers often. And they are right in using it. Like ‘thank you’, please should be used often. Use please with everyone: to both your superiors and subordinates. Especially to your subordinates…

Compare these two lines:

Make sure that the annual reports are printed by 2 pm.

Please make sure that the annual reports are printed by 2 pm.

The word ‘please’ softens the sentence. And makes it sound less like a command. The person reading this message would respond positively to it.

3. Can vs. Could vs. May (asking for permission) 

The most informal way to ask for permission is can.

Can I use the conference room for ten minutes?

At work, if you wish to be more formal, use could.

Could I use the conference room for ten minutes?

If you are in a formal situation, then go for: may.

May I use the conference room for ten minutes?

4. Can vs. May (giving permission) 

When giving permission, we say, ‘yes, you can‘ or ‘yes, you may‘.

May is more polite than can.

Don’t say: yes, you could. That may cause some confusion in the mind of the listener. Well, could I, or couldn’t I?

5. Would 

Would is an excellent word to use when trying to soften your language.

Would you agree?

That’s softer than: Do you agree?

Here are some expressions that use ‘would’:

Would you mind if we start early tomorrow?

Would you like to read the summary first?

I would suggest we look at other options.

  6. Shall  

This is a polite verb to use. For example:

Shall I call all the interns?

Shall we start the meeting?

In fact, the term ‘shall we’ can be used at the start of almost any activity:

Shall we start the presentation? Shall we start the conference call? Shall we break for lunch? Shall we

When starting an activity (meeting, presentation), it’s a good idea to use: we. It’s a nice way of making people feel included.

7. Let’ s 

In a more informal setting, say with colleagues who you know well, you can use ‘let’s’ instead of ‘shall’.

Let’s start the meeting.

Let’s listen to Nalini’s update.

Let’s order a cake!


Being polite is important. It creates a positive atmosphere at work and is a professional way of conducting yourself.  Could being polite become contagious? I certainly hope so…



Will vs. Would

will you marry me

Let’s look at when to use will and would.

After reading this post, I’m sure you’ll agree that ‘will you marry me?’ is a better option than ‘would you marry me?’.

Use of will 

We use will to talk about the future. For example:   

“Natasha will complete editing the report by this evening.” 

We also use will when we decide to do something at the moment of speaking:

“Don’t worry. I will help you with the accounts.”

 Use of would

There are many ways to use would. We use it:

  • to talk about the past, in the same way we use ‘used to’.

When I was in Mumbai, I would jog everyday in the morning. 

When Praveen was here, we would review the sales figures every Monday. 

  • to ask a polite question.

Would you like to meet the duty manager?”

  • to make a polite request.

Would you mind if we leave early?”

  • to make a polite recommendation.

“I would suggest that we wait till tomorrow.”

  • to talk about something conditional.

“If I were you, I would hire both of them.”

 “I would attend the conference, if I could find the time.” 

“I would have sent you the file, if you had asked me.” 

  • with indirect speech.

“He said that Anjali would meet us tomorrow morning at the hotel.”

In indirect speech, we are reporting what someone else said. In that case, we use would and not will. We should not say: “He said that Anjali will meet us…”

When to use will instead of would

There are situations when using would could cause some confusion. Let’s look at these two sentences:

I would send you the finalised contract.

I will send you the finalised contract.

The first sentence sounds tentative. I may or may not send the contract. The unsaid meaning could be: If certain conditions are met, I would send it.

While the second sentence is more certain. It is more reassuring: yes, I will send it.

Having said that, do keep in mind that the use of would and will can be more nuanced. For example, if you want to be polite and are sure that there will be no confusion in the mind of the reader, you can write: I would send you the finalised contract. However, if you feel that there could be room for misinterpretation, then go for: I will send you the finalised contract.

And now you know why the question is: will you marry me.

Would you agree?