The meaning of words | Rudi Alcott

So what’s in a word?

It is said that the American English language has about 1 million words in it, give or take a couple hundred thousand, depending on whether you throw in the scientific words. Scientists are like that, always adding to the complexity of life.

Of this, the average person knows about 20,000 words and uses about 2,000 per week. This is then dependent upon your sex. Females use about 1,900 of their 2,000-a-week allotment about 60 seconds before their male counterpart is trying to fall asleep. Males use about two to five words per week, not including indistinguishable grunts, “hey bud” and “dude.” We loan the rest to the females, or else the 2,000-per-week average would skyrocket. This is something that is not in our best interest. So by loaning these words to members of the opposite sex, we artificially suppress this average — and life just keeps getting better.

But why then, with all of these words, do we need to continue to repeat them? I’m not talking about repeating them as only a parent needs to and that after the 17th time, the child actually does pick up his room or brush his teeth. I’m talking about reusing the same word and giving it a whole new meaning. This is commonly referred to as a homonym. There are many, but fluke and bow come to mind. Fluke is a fish, the end of an anchor, a whale’s tail and a stroke of luck. Bow can be a long wooden stick for playing a violin, to bend forward, the front of a boat, or something that shoots arrows.

Then, if that isn’t enough, we add homophones. These are words that have the same pronunciation regardless of how they are spelled. Tire and bark are two examples. Tire as “to wear out,” or tire as “that which you put on a car.” Bark as in a dog’s sound, or as that which is on the outside of a tree. Got it? Let’s add to the complexity.

Young vs. old

Let’s revisit our scientist friends for a moment. In geology, they have what’s called Bacon’s Dilemma. I also have a bacon dilemma. No less than four slices, please.

Anyhow, their dilemma states that because humans are anthropocentric (we view ourselves as the central element of the universe, a fact my wife reminds me of constantly), that young is old and old is young.

Huh? Yep, to them, the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. When they refer to “old” Earth, they refer to the Earth as it was 4.5 billion years ago. In actuality, the Earth was young at that point and it is old now, but to a geologist today, the Earth is a baby. This is like calling a newborn an old man, and calling a 70-year-old a baby.

That solves it then. Separately, “young” and “old” are not homonyms, but placed together, they are. I dare to venture the women will figure this out. Football will no longer mean me watching sports on Sunday, but her foot in my… well my 552 words are up, and I have to go now. I can now not speak for 110 weeks. This fact will not be lost on my spouse or employees.

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