‘Words for Nerds’

New English word? Translate any word using double click.

Do you know what a finial is? In one of the Spotlight issues from 2020, Judith Gilbert, writer, editor and translator, wrote a little column titled ‘Words for Nerds’. Here she lists a number of words most people probably never heard of, and which demonstrate that it is impossible to know all the words of any language. They are all nouns denoting special little items of everyday life. See if you can find out what they are with the help of internet images. Do you know the term for the thing in your own native language?

Check images in the internet for the following:

  1. finial
  2. aglet
  3. agraffe
  4. barm
  5. ferrule
  6. keeper
  7. petrichor
  8. punt
  9. spoffle
  10. tittle
  11. ullage
  12. zarf

In the linguistic study of the meaning of words, we have categories that denote special semantic relationships between lexical items. For instance, homonyms are words that look and sound the same, but mean completely different things; homophones sound the same, are spelt differently and also mean different things.

A contronym, also known as auto-antonym, is a word that has two opposite meanings, though they could also be homonyms, depending on their etymology.

A palindrome is a word that is, when read, the same backward and forward, and semordnilap denotes  a word that, when read backward, makes a completely different word.

Can you identify which of the words below go into which category?

  1. desserts
  2. radar
  3. dog
  4. to dust
  5. kayak
  6. to screen
  7. to rent
  8. apparent
  9. to sanction ( a word I personally always struggled with)

Semantic Relationships continued

Two other semantic relationships are synonymy and polysemy. Polysemy refers to cases where a word has different, but related meanings, e.g. chip can mean a piece of wood, a food item, or an electronic circuit. Although calling a computer chip a chip can also, etymologically, have been a process of metaphorical meaning transfer, a process very common in language use.

Synonyms are words that mean the same, at least in concept. In reality, complete synonymy is rare. The differences between words can be regional, emotional, stylistically etc.,  i.e. words can share some level of synonymy, but differ in connotations. For instance pavement and sidewalk are used differently in different countries (US versus UK) i.e. they differ regionally; horse and nag differ in the speaker’s attitude towards the respective animal (different connotations), whereas saw horses or pommel horses aren’t horses at all (metaphor?)

Hyponymy refers to the semantic relationship of hierarchical categorization: An X is a kind of Y; a tulip is a kind of rose, a mare is a kind of horse, a car is a kind of vehicle. Sometimes semantic relationships between words can be described by more than one category; identifications or allocations to specific semantic terms are not completely clear-cut.

I hope I haven’t opened a Pandora’s box.

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