By Tommy Clarkson from the November 2012 Edition
In as much as our alphabet starts with the letter “A”, what better prefix than that one to discuss the, often, weird way we, of the English writing and speaking ilk, communicate.
For examples, take the word “atheist” – “somebody who does not believe in God or deities” – as opposed to theist – “belief in the existence of a god or gods”. Aha, they are, then, dichotomous! I’m fairly “agog” – “in a state of eager excitement, anticipation or interest”. (But – there on my horizon of consideration lies a grey cloud of possible confusion – if I wasn’t agog, would I be “gog”? That doesn’t sound particularly good!
But the former seemed to make good sense, right? OK, so let’s pursue this a bit further. What then of the word “abash” as opposed to the good, old, basic “bash”? That would be “To astonish, discomfort or disconcert” in juxtaposition to “to strike somebody or something with a heavy blow.” While a bash might cause me a bit of discomfort that really doesn’t seem to follow our earlier etymological thought process does it?
Now, while “To encourage, sanction or help is to “abet”, a general consensus amongst us all would be that to “bet” would be, generally speaking, a “wager”. Yet, I’ve gone to the track of ponies or pups, walked up to the window and said “I wish to place ‘a bet’”. And, did not someone “help” this transaction on by “encouraging and sanctioning” me through the taking of my bet? This seems a tad convoluted and I’m a bit confused here!
What of this then? The word “about” is described as “A grammatical word that refers to “Different sides or aspects of something from some point of orientation”. Yet, a boxer fights a “bout” with a fellow pugilist from but one perspective – to knock him silly! And, then there’s “acute” as opposed to “cute” . . . ‘nuf said there!
Granted that while “abrood” is the adverb of “brooding”, “abrook is the verb transitive of “to brook” and “aburst” is the adjective form of “burst, what then of “abrupt”? Delete the “a” and it sounds more like a deep, meal appreciative, mid-eastern belch!
The “a-words” – “afield”, “agush”, “aflame” “afloat”, “aheap” “ahead”, “afoot”, “akin” and even “aleak” are pretty obvious as to which or what each refers, right? What then of “akimbo”? (A great word, by the way, used far too seldom in my opinion . . . though a bit difficult to work into a conversation over cocktails I suppose!) What is a “kimbo? Or, not to alarm anyone – what’s a “larm”? And then there’s “lert” and “alert”! H’mmmmmm?
I turn for clarification from my, well over 2,300 page Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary and there, side by side, are “alight” and “align”. I know “light” but “lign”?
Where is the sense and logic in all of this? Am I “ashamed” or “shamed” that this seems too much for my little brain? Increasingly, this whole prefix “a” conundrum seems to make me want to throw my hands in the air with frustration most abject (wait, is that almost yet another “a-word” lying in wait to confuse me further?) – and scream “a- @%$*”!!!! (I “await” your thoughts and “wait” for your counsel.” Now that makes sense!)
(The previous 7 “The Twisted Way We Speak” can be seen in earlier issues.)
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Tommy Clarkson is a bit of a renaissance man. He’s lived and worked in locales as disparate as the 1.2 square mile island of Kwajalein to war-torn Iraq, from aboard he and Patty’s boat berthed out of Sea Bright, NJ to Thailand, Germany, Hawaii and Viet Nam; He’s taught classes and courses on creative writing and mass communications from the elementary grades to graduate level; He’s spoken to a wide array of meetings, conferences and assemblages on topics as varied as Buddhism, strategic marketing and tropical plants; In the latter category he and Patty’s recently book, “The Civilized Jungle” – written for the lay gardener – has been heralded as “the best tropical plant book in the last ten years”; And, according to Trip Advisor, their spectacular tropical creation – Ola Brisa Gardens – is the “Number One Tour destination in Manzanillo”.