What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 102 of 132

A rock and hard decisions

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, February 18, 2011

In the ”hed” above, the word “adamant” is used as an adjective. It means inflexible, unyielding or insistent.

Before looking it up in Webster’s, I would have been inflexible and unyielding in insisting that it is only an adjective. I’d have also been wrong.

The meaning of adamant in ancient times was a “hard stone or other substance that was supposedly unbreakable,” according to Webster’s. In that sense, the word works as a noun.

We could consider a diamond an adamant. Wikipedia notes that “both adamant and diamond derive from the Greek word αδαμας (adamas).” It meant untamable.

A diamond is so hard that it rates a 10 on Mohs’ Scale, a scale a German geologist named--you guessed it!--Mohs created in 1812 to show relative hardness in minerals. (For more details, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohs_scale_of_mineral_hardness.)

We can deduce, then, that the adjective that means unyielding has morphed from a noun meaning an unbreakable stone.

National legislators may feel they are encountering unbreakable substances as they try to carve into our country’s debt. Speaker John Boehner insists that Republicans will push through spending cuts in Congress, but a front-page story in yesterday’s paper notes that even he is conflicted about what to fund and what not to fund. (“Obama, GOP freshmen win fight to cancel $450M for jet program”)

While lawmakers know that cost-cutting will likely create hardships, they also fear that doing nothing will create a mountain of debt that cannot be broken up. In that way, they are truly between the proverbial rock and a hard spot.

As noted yesterday, below are synonyms for fight:

“To engage in a quarrel: argue, bicker, contend, dispute, quarrel, quibble, spat, squabble, tiff, wrangle, hassle, tangle. To strive in opposition: battle, combat, contend, duel, struggle, tilt, war, wrestle. A physical conflict involving two or more: fistfight, fisticuffs, scrap, scuffle, tussle, rumble. A discussion, often heated, in which a difference of opinion is expressed: altercation, argument, bicker, clash, contention, controversy, debate, difficulty, disagreement, dispute, polemic, quarrel, run-in, spat, squabble, tiff, word, wrangle, hassle, rhubarb, tangle. “ -- Roget’s II: The New Thesaurus


Fighting words

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, February 17, 2011

These wrestlers aren’t the only ones in a fight to win. Today’s front page contains plenty of fighting words, though in various shades of meaning. Check out the highlighted headlines below to see what I mean.

A “fight” has arisen between the owners of the Fruita Health Club and Fruita’s city council over a new community center. The owners of the health club claim that the city of Fruita has taken business away from them by including a fitness center within the community center. A headline writer puckishly summarized this dispute as “a fit over staying fit.”

At the bottom right of the front page is a story is about a man who was asked to leave the local IRS office because he had a dog with him. Claiming that his sidekick is a service dog, the man eventually gained entry—along with the dog.

This story’s headline starts out with “Spat leads to debate.” The word “spat” means a “brief, petty quarrel,” according to Webster’s. “Debate” is a fight of another sort, a civilized one that uses words.

The simple subject in reporter Amy Hamilton’s first sentence is “dust-up.” This word is a synonym for fight. We have to think about its connotation, or shade or meaning, though. It means a minor fight, hardly on the scale of the War on Terror.

To the right of that story is the headline: Obama, GOP freshmen win fight to cancel $450M for jet program.

Here, fight once again means debate. Republicans in the House of Representatives were divided as to whether they should vote to cut funding for a jet program. In the end, those who wanted the cut got their wishes.

At the top right of the front page is this headline: Lawsuit claims negligence in death of racer.

This story is about a lawsuit filed by the parents of a nine-year-old girl who died while go-kart racing last August. A lawsuit is filed when people seek justice from other people over alleged wrongdoing. In a lawsuit, the fight is also carried out mostly with words. Lawyers for both sides will argue the case in a civil court, using the history of the incident as they see it. Then a judge or a jury will decide which side in the case is correct.

“Fight” has become an all-purpose word to describe different types of conflict, ranging from minor arguments to physical scuffles to full-blown wars.

If we were to use any one of these news reports as a basis for a short story or novel, we would label them external conflict, or conflict that is happening between individuals, or groups of people.

Right now, I have an internal conflict as to how to end this blog entry. Should I give more synonyms for “fight” or should I let you find them in your dictionary? Hmmm, tough decision, but I’ll compromise. I’ll invite you to look some up, and tomorrow I’ll list others that I know. Phew! Internal conflict resolved.



Bittersweet word can get under our skin

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, February 16, 2011

To understand the word “poignant,” it helps to think about our five senses: smell, taste, touch, sight and hearing.

Webster’s says that the first meanings of poignant are “sharp or pungent to the smell, or, formerly, the taste” and “keenly affecting the other senses.”

Poignant comes from the Latin word pungere, meaning to prick. That helps us understand other definitions given by Webster’s: “sharply painful to the feelings; painful [and] evoking pity, compassion, etc.; emotionally touching or moving [and] sharp, biting, penetrating, pointed.”

For an example of a poignant news story, refer to the WIAW blog entry for Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010.



People power or mob rule?

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Democracy has two Greek word parts: demos, meaning the people, and kratein, meaning rule. So, democracy means rule of the people.

Democracy is an emotionally laden word for most Americans. We cherish our democratic rights so much so that we actively encourage other countries to hold free and fair elections, as evidenced in our nation-building of Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re moved by pictures of Iraqis holding up purple index fingers to show they’ve voted.

Though arguably a better alternative to, say, autocracy (a rule by one) or plutocracy (government by the wealthy), pure democracy also has its shortcomings. In a pure democracy, everyone has a say in running the government, and the majority rules. While that may sound good on the surface, historians tell us that our Founding Fathers had their reservations.

Some were concerned about majority rule running rampant over the needs of the minority. So, they established our form of government as a republic, a system that allowed representatives to enact the wishes of their constituents and created laws to limit the power of government. The Founding Fathers did, of course, retain the democratic procedure of voting.

Ironically, then, Arab leaders may justifiably be concerned about democracy, at least in its purest form. Given the volatility of the region, pure democracy could descend into mob rule.

Egypt’s uprising against Hosni Mubarek, an autocrat who held power for nearly 30 years, has been a fascinating look into the determination of common people to rule themselves. Now we see a wave of other protests in the Middle East and North Africa.

As we watch Egypt’s ripple effect, let’s hope that both courage and wisdom guide our fellow citizens of the world in their quest for democracy.



Tree octopus pushovers

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, February 14, 2011

The word “gullible” also appears in today’s “Freshly Squeezed,” reproduced below. It means easily fooled or duped.

To better understand the meaning of this word, check out an interesting video on NIEOnline that discusses how many people believe there is a “tree octopus.” You’ll find it at http://nieonline.com/grandjunction/videooftheweek.cfm?id=89.

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