Words with Multiple Meanings

I’ve been thinking about words lately, thanks to the book I’m reading.  (The Unfolding of Language, by Guy Deutscher, is what I’m reading if you hadn’t caught it before.)  Words that have multiple uses are what I’ve been thinking about today.

“Under” is a fun word.  It can mean physically below something, as in “under my bed.”  It can also mean less of something, as in, “under $4” (which typically means $3.99, if we’re being specific) or “under an hour”.  Under is also part of many sayings that mean something different from their literal definitions, like “under the weather” and “water under the bridge.”  My favorite is to understand something – if I figure something out I’m not actually standing under it, but there it is, in the word.  (Guy Deutscher explains this with an interesting theory, that the metaphor was probably similar to “getting to the bottom of” something.)

Another fun one is guilt.  Guilt is an actual state of being responsible for an action, usually breaking a law.  Guilt is also an emotion which has to do with feeling a sense of responsibility.  So you can be guilty or feel guilty; they might be the same, they might not!

Then there are words with different or conflicting meanings, depending on the situation.  (Perhaps they can be considered ambivalent?)  “Wicked” is a good one.  It can be bad, typically evil, but it could also be incredibly good.  The difference is context.

Ah, words.  So much fun to play with!

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Renaissance Oils
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 17:00:14

    Ah-ha! Yes, I have fun with this all the time! Good read.

    Reply

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