By Tony Deyal
Are you ready for my column today? If so, get set but not go. The reason is that “ready” is not ready for the top ten, “set” is set for the next few years as the leader of the pack, “pack” is not among the front-runners, and while “go” is on the go, it is not “set” and soon when the 2037 Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is published, “set” and “go” will be run over by “run”.
Before you behave like my neighbour, Ms Pitty, and take up a dictionary to throw words at me, let me provide a “context” (the circumstances which form the setting for an event, statement or idea and not a book belonging to a swindler in prisoner) for my column today. Officially, the word with the most meanings in English is “set” which has 430 senses (meanings or usage) in the Second Edition of the OED in 1989. The word commands the longest entry in the dictionary at 60,000 words, or 326,000 characters.
Now that is a whole set of characters, even more than the Trump supporters who swarmed the Capitol on January 6 last year. When my wife and I get set for the TV set to watch the ongoing attempt to have Trump charged for his role in setting up the invasion and the electrical current goes, something which increasingly besets us, I see it as a serious setback that the Government needs to settle or they will be beset by a whole set of complaints. I know that would not set well with them. They will probably be as unsettled as I am in trying to get a set of jokes for my cricket book. Right now, I’m stumped and have totally lost my serene mindset.
But let’s go with the second in the race “Go”. It is considered one of the most ubiquitous everyday words in the English Language meaning it can be a noun, adjective and verb. It has 368 definitions in the OED. As I did with “set” I will try to give a couple of its meanings a go. While “go” means “to move from one place to another” or “travel”, it is also used to tell people where to go to (including Hell), and when the word is repeated (go, go) it can be a Russian dancer, a two-some, three-some or more depending on how many you Putin.
However, “Run” wins the race by miles. Right now, “run” is heading for 645 different definitions because it is widely used to describe a lot of different activities – a car runs on gas, a politician runs for office, a computer runs a program and my athlete friend is almost as special for his upside-down version of the word – his nose runs and his feet smell.
What makes these words grow like cedars in Lebanon, or criminal charges on Trump, are their homographic content. In case some of you are not sure what a homograph is, it has nothing to do with sexual choices but everything when it comes to words that are spelt identically but have vastly different definitions. What happens if you batter a bat with a bat? You can have lots of tears in your underwear and nobody notices, but shed a few crocodile tears and it’s “see you later alligator”. You can catch a bass, play a bass or, if you’re in Grenada or some of the other Caribbean countries, you can jump in a “bass” to get to work or school. Every Apache in the old westerns was armed with a bow but, like Chief Crazy Horse, refused to bow to the whites.
Then there are contronyms which, depending on how they are used, can have opposite or contradictory meanings. If something is transparent, is it invisible or obvious? The answer, confusingly, could be either one. A bolt is not only an athlete but, depending on how you use it, the bolt can secure your premises or, if the thieves get in, you have to bolt for your life. You might be so scared you will be spell-bound or you could go pell-mell, bound for safety. If you’re really totally scared you might buckle under the pressure or you can buckle up and take the necessary action. One I like is “clip” – you can either use a clip to tie up your hair or cut it! You can “dust” by adding fine particles or by removing them, and if the threat is still around, you can dus’ it.
“Fast” is a word which means quick but also means stuck. You can also be fast asleep! My wife says that’s not my style. She tells people that I am always sound asleep because I snore a lot. If you’re promoting anything consistently, you’re flogging it, but in my younger days I also got some bad floggings when I chose to go to the cinema instead of school. Another is “handicap” which is either an advantage or a disadvantage, especially if you’re a racehorse. At this point, I must refrain from providing more contranyms but since it means to desist from doing something, or continue by repeating it, I will go on strike which allows me to hit or, in baseball, to miss an attempt to hit.
My favourite word is not in the top three or even the top ten. It is the word “cover”. Why? For example, the police in Trinidad shot and killed three unarmed men and then claimed that the men were armed and had pulled guns on them. That is supposed to be a cover-up which is something I do when, like now, we are swamped with rainy weather and I hide every inch of my body from the mosquitoes.
One night my wife traumatically removed the covers from me, but I immediately recovered. But is there a cover-down? I know that James Bond liked to sleep under covers and Batman does not cover his whole face because he needs the police to know that he is white. However, I used to be chided by my Mom for leaving the food uncovered and she tended to shout very loudly, “Cover down the pot! You want fly to eat we food or what?”
I don’t know if my love for the word “cover” started when I discovered the language of cricket, especially when the announcers spoke about cover, extra cover, slips, long legs, short legs and Chinamen. Even now I can’t forget the cowboy games of our youth when like the bandits of old we played “Stick em up”.
Recently there was a tarpaulin controversy in Trinidad. During the recent heavy rains, a tent collapsed and the media reported that the national security minister had to run for cover. Then a few people claimed that the minister did not run. Whatever happened with the tarpaulin, it was a massive coverup. In that case, you clearly can judge the mook by his cover.
*Tony Deyal was last seen saying that Columbus and the Spaniards did not discover the islands of the Caribbean, and neither the British nor the French recovered it. They were all talking total ship.