Do I make myself clear?

 One of my favourite radio programmes growing up was My Word! The chairman of the panel game introduced the teams each week with the phrase ‘whose business is words’. I wondered how they had managed to make words their business. I wanted to do the same.

Not having a television I sometimes had spare time in the evening. One of the ways I filled it was by doing a sort of treasure hunt through a dictionary. If I didn’t know the meaning of a word in the definition of another word, I’d look that up, and the next. I still turn to a book rather than an on-line dictionary (and some of my friends ask me the meaning of words!)

The English language has many words, which are made to serve in more than one capacity. I was reminded of this recently when a newsreader on the radio said the police are calling it, 'a shed-load of…'

…I think someone was picturing a wooden out-building full of whatever it was. I realised that the police had been describing the load the lorry had shed. A shed load. The ambiguity remained with me, but not the detail of what had been shed.
One interpretation of leaves shed

Another word with more than one meaning is clinic. When a consultant holds a clinic, he or she does not pick up a building where health professionals see patients.

Misunderstandings frequently arise through the use of sarcasm, irony and euphemisms. I was taught that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit and to avoid euphemisms. This sometimes means that I miss the point or am rather slow at picking up that someone is joking. Puns and wordplay were our family’s favourites. But I was warned that people don’t like witty women. Ahem!

Literalism brings its own problems. Common sense (a concept I found very difficult as a child) is needed too. 

A friend recently complained about people sending emails without thinking about the effect they might have on the sender. It is too easy to press send, without checking the tone of the email and whether it might be misunderstood. The same applies to social media and to everyday conversation. It is so easy to say the wrong thing! (On a more positive note, I am beginning to use the polite phrases I have learned from social media in conversation.)

I remember coming across a second meaning for a word in everyday use. I was a student, when I found out that obtain could be an intransitive verb, that is, one which doesn’t have an object. Object itself can be a noun or a verb and is pronounced differently to differentiate between the two. Have other people noticed how the subtle differences in pronunciation when a word is used as a verb or a noun are being lost? Does it matter?

Did the title of my post take you back to schooldays with an angry teacher’s words at the end of a long telling off and warning against reoffending?


  1. I enjoyed reading this Susan. I too was a huge fan of My Word when I was growing up, also like you having no television. I used to love the terrible pun stories at the end, and can still remember some of them - like the pacific island ruler whose house burned down destroying among other things his collection of thrones, the moral being that people who live in grass houses shouldn't stow thrones. Or the one from Denis Norden about being forced to take a packed lunch to school while his friends went to the chip shop, and looking sadly at his sandwich, murmuring, "Was this the lunch that face a thousand chips?"

    1. Thanks, Ros. I had forgotten those stories. It all comes back to me now! Radio was so much better in those days; sigh...


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