Vocabulary Notes for “His Wife’s E-mail”

1. a love affair / an affair

- a love affair is a sexual and romantic relationship between two people who are not married to one another. (It is necessary to include “romantic” in this definition because a purely sexual relationship does not qualify as a “love affair”; there have to be strong feelings involved as well.) Most often, although not always, the phrase is used to refer to a relationship between two people one of whom at least is married to someone else.
• It is logically impossible — i.e. impossible because it would contradict the definition — for someone to have a love affair with his or her husband or wife. It is unusual but not impossible — as this story shows — for someone to have a love affair with his or her former husband or wife.
• When the special meaning is clear from the context (as it is in the second sentence of the second paragraph of the story) a love affair is often simply referred to as an “affair.”

2. he had beaten her up

• the transitive phrasal verb , “beat up,” is subtly different in its meaning from the single-word verb, “beat,” on which it is based; “to beat up [a person]” means to physically attack and injure that person by hitting them with your fist, kicking or biting, etc; the verb “beat” used without the particle normally means to hit someone or something repeatedly with a club or a stick or some other such weapon. However, there is not a very clear and definite difference between the two verbs. For example, we often say of a man who physically abuses his wife that he “beats” her — and may also refer to him as a “wife-beater” without implying that he hits her with a weapon but not with his hands or feet.
• It is also worth noting that the single-word verb is most often used with the meaning of “defeating someone in a game or contest,” as in “Harry always beats Sara in tennis.”
• The Oxford American Dictionary defines “beat” as follows: “to strike a person or animal repeatedly usually with an implement such as a club or a whip” and “beat up” as follows: “assault and severely injure someone by hitting, kicking, or punching them repeatedly.”

3. started legal action to get custody

• to have “custody” of a person means to have the legal right to care for (i.e. “look after”) them for their own protection. (It is also possible to have custody over a thing.) To take “legal action” to get something means to do whatever is legally necessary to get that thing (for example, seeing a lawyer or going to the police.)

4. guilty of identity theft or stealing intellectual prooperty

• someone is guilty of “identity theft” if, for example, they steal someone’s credit card (or credit card number) in order buy things illegally using that person’s “credit.” “Intellectual property” is “information” that legally belongs to a person or corporation (written material, music, scientific research results etc.)

5. snoop

“snooping” is looking, secretly and without permission, thorough someone’s personal belongings, documents etc in the hope of finding private information — especially personal information. [etmology: this word entered American English in the late Nineteenth Century with the meaning of “detective.” Its current meaning was first attested in 1921. It comes from the Dutch word, “snoepen” referring to secret eating.]

6. postpone

• to “postpone” an event such as a trial means to decide that it will not take place at the originally scheduled date but at some later date, and, normally, this later date would be specified. (The transitive phrasal verb, “put off” has a similar meaning but there is an important difference: when something is “postponed” this is done intentionally but things can be (and often are) put off unintentionally as a result of laziness or procrastination. “Delay” has a similar meaning but usually in a clause with this verb, the subject (or if the clause is passive, the object, of the preposition in a by-phrase) will refer to the cause of the delay. For example: The plane was delayed by bad weather. [etymology: “postpone” is constructed from the Latin prefix “post,” meaning “after,” and the Latin “ponere” meaning to put or place. (Other common words which also use the prefix “post”: postgraduate, postdate, postscript, postmortem, posthumous.)]

7. precedent

“precedent” is the noun form of the verb “precede” and, literally, means “an event that happens before some other event.” As it is normally used, however, it has the special sense of referring to a legal decision that determines or at least influences later decisions.

8. obtain evidence

• here, as in most cases, the much more common and ordinary verb “get” could be substituted for “obtain.” “Obtain” is used here only because it is more formal and therefore seems more appropriate in a legal context.