*

21.8.07

and speaking of single-celled organisms...

The polysemic champion must be 'set'. Superficially it seems like a wholly unseeming monosyllable, the verbal equivalent of a single-celled organism. Yet it has 58 uses as a noun, 126 as a verb, and 10 as an adjective [and] it take the OED 60,000 words...to discuss them all.
—Bill Bryson
Man, I love the word polysemic, and not just because it sounds totally dirty, yet isn't. It's also one of those words I keep forgetting the English language has, and it always takes me by surprise when I remember it. It always feels like rediscovering it every time I come across it.* When I'm translating, and I come across the Norwegian word "flertydig" or "mangetydig" (which are far more commonly used than their English equivalents), I try to work out a series of words in my head meaning the same thing**, elaborations like "having several meanings", "multiple meanings", etc. And then I remember polysemous or its partner in crime multivalence** and I'm home free.

* Any double-entendre in the previous two sentences is completely unintended. Seriously.
** Did you realise that polysemic is the equivalent of multivalent? So many levels, dude.

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3 Comments:

Blogger suttonhoo said...

so yummy.

I've been tossing around the idea of cadence in conversation -- how sometimes the music of language between two people tells you more than what they say -- the notes, the tones that they hit, whether the dialog is harmonious or discordant.

but you never really can divorce the music from the language, can you? selecting words is like choosing which notes to hit. it's integral to the music.

polysemic plays so beautifully...

August 21, 2007 6:04 pm  
Anonymous S said...

Here's a kinky word: "supersede"

August 23, 2007 10:47 am  
Blogger mrtn said...

Suttonhoo: Sounds like the old western-music vs. African music thing: primarily harmonic development (choosing of words) or rhythmic/expressive/dynamic development.

S: Also "fallacious" and "dissemination".

August 23, 2007 12:03 pm  

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