The Love of Language Is a Lifelong (And Only Slightly Stigmatizing) Affair

Here’s a pretty good example of how my brain works.

Actually, let me pause for a moment and provide a second good example of how my brain works.  I opened up a document to start typing up this post.  I had an idea of what I was going to say and my brain was in “on a roll” mode.  That is to say that my brain had already reached the delicate point of balance at which I can just type what I’m thinking and have it make sense.  That usually takes me a while.

However, I had typed exactly one letter when I realized the problem.  The document’s font was “Times New Roman.”  I hate Times New Roman.  I might have some sort of irrational grudge against serifs.  I’m not sure.  Either way it threw off my whole groove.  I finished my sentence–yonder first sentence–changed the font, and embarked upon this little self-interruption.

I feel better about the font now.  You might wonder why I don’t change the default settings of my productivity software.  I will wonder right along with you.  I suspect that a large part of it has to do with the overall complexity involved just in finding the setting to change the default font.  My productivity software is very user friendly, as long as users want to do very specific things in very specific ways.   It has no patience for my quirks.

Luckily the feeling isn’t mutual, because I can’t afford new productivity software.

Either way, back to my first good example of how my brain works:

I was standing in a gas station earlier today, and the radio there was playing Berlin’s (the band’s) song, “Take my breath away.”  I thought to myself how much more interesting it would be to say, “Take my wind away,” or perhaps, “Take my spirit away.”

Those options occurred to me because the words for “breath” in Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew happen in both cases also to be the word for “wind” and “spirit,” and if we want to be pesky about it, “spirit” is just the Latin word that means all the same things.  Also we could use all three and mean “Ghost,” which is a fun alternative.

In any event I always like it when words can mean different things.  I find the entire notion of lexical senses intoxicating. I’ll pause for you to say that I’m the only one.  (Also this is a good time for people to point out the rather circuitous use I’m making of illegitimate totality transfer.)

It’s interesting to me the way languages work.  Languages will have one word that has a multitude of divers uses, but then about some other idea they will have incredibly specific and nuanced terms almost as if to avoid letting any one word mean too much.  For example, both Hebrew and Greek have a truly horrifying repertoire of words that mean “kill.”  I’m told, although I’ve never encountered it–the reasons will hopefully be obvious by the end of the sentence–that the ancient Greeks had a specific verb for killing someone by removing his or her eyes with a spoon.

English is not specifically better about this, in case you happen to think this phenomenon is exclusive to ancient languages.  We may have divided certain ancient words into multiple words for the multiple original uses, but we still have words like “run.”  My car might run.  A program might run.  I might run.  I might run for office.  My nose might run.  I might run up a tab.  I might have a run in my stockings.   My eyeliner might run.

(Admittedly the last few might prompt non-lexical questions.)

“Charge” is another good example.  I might charge something to my account.  I might charge a barricade.  I might charge my phone.  The police might charge me with a crime.  A judge might subsequently charge me with better behavior.  An explosives expert might plant a charge.  I might take charge of a situation.  I might get a charge out of a situation.

We even have words like “peruse,” which can mean contradictory things–to read slowly and with attention, to read quickly without attention–and words like “cleave,” which is it’s own opposite, meaning both to separate and to bring together.

This is what I thought about while standing in a gas station listening to a song from a movie about jet fighters.


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