Silence is golden!
"It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt." This is a quote attributed to Mark Twain, and I wish I had come across it much earlier in life; that would have saved me much embarrassment.
But, no. I came upon this quote very recently after much damage had been done due to my penchant for opening my mouth when it would have been better to keep it shut.
There have been innumerable instances when I have opened my mouth un-necessarily but this one incident is still fresh in my mind although it happened decades ago. I think of it often and flinch.
Fresh out of the journalism school, I got my first job as a trainee sub with a fortnightly magazine.I was on top of the world! We were a small group of sub-editors, and girls were more in number.
One day, one of the girls, who was furiously engaged in editing a story, lifted her head and asked me, "Hi, do you know if there is a single word to describe people who though vegetarians do eat eggs?"
I had heard of vegetarians and non-vegetarians but had no idea whether there was a specific word to describe people who, otherwise vegetarians, eat eggs. The wise thing would have been to say, "I am sorry, I don't know." But I had been trying to impress the girl for some time and I didn't want to let go of this opportunity.
"Egalitarian," I said wearing a smug expression on my face.
The girl looked at me incredulously; she was not at all impressed. Then, a suppressed little giggle escaped her lips. But you can't suppress the mirth that is bent upon gaining freedom, and she almost rolled on the floor laughing her head off. Now, laughter is contagious; everyone else had heard the question and my answer and they too joined in the hilarity.
I didn't understand what the joke was but joined in the laughter nevertheless to convey that I had puposely made the wisecrack to break the monotony.
Those were the days when Internet had not yet made its advent and, so, I surreptitiously picked up the dictionary to check the meaning of egalitarian. Egalitarian, the dictionary told me, is "believing that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities". It had nothing to do with eggs!
I did some research and discovered that people who are vegetarians but eat eggs and dairy products go by the name "lacto-ovo vegetarians" and those who forsake even dairy products but eat eggs are "ovo-vegetarians". Sometimes, ovo-vegetarians are described as "eggetarians" but I could not find the word in the dictionary.
Well, there is a good side to everything. I was never again bothered by anyone who wanted to know the meaning of something or the other; they preferred to ask somebody else or use the dictionary. Fortunately, my editor did not come to hear of the incident, else he would have pulled his hair out in despair at having appointed a sub-editor like me.