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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Mental Alphabet Soup

The comment from Floh on yesterdays post got me thinking. She used a word I hadn't ever heard before...punnet.

What is a punnet you ask? It turns out a punnet is a small basket
for carrying fruit.

Here is a punnet:

or should I say a plethora of punnets as I didnt bother to search for just one.

Sorry, couldn't resist the chance to write plethora of punnets as that opportunity doesnt come along often.

I should be PUNished!


But back to the word punnet...

This is one of those examples where the word is more intriguing than the item it stands for.

Like obtuse, which sounds anything but dull. Or, lagniappe which is ever so much more romantic and delicious sounding than a bakers dozen.

How about words that "sound" pretty but mean something awful, like melancholy?

Who would want to go through life saddled with being that word?

How depressing!

I wonder how many words have been invented in the course of mankind's existence? Millions? More?

A quick Google search reveals no simple answer to this question.

I didn't realize there was anything that Google could not answer, but apparently this is one that is unanswerable.

Ah the mystery of words...

Each having its own distinct
meaning for the time and place in which it existed.

Big words, small words.
Words made up of single individual letters.
Letters that whether curved or angular, serve as modern day hieroglyphics by which we communicate how we feel, what we love, even which direction we should take.

Words are like pebbles of thought, each one distinct and of a different weight and texture than the ones surrounding it.

Given that they have weight, we can naturally assume that words have power. Remember the old adage "sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me?" Who said that and would Google know? It has to be one of the most incorrect lines ever passed down and must still be with us

a) because it rhymes and is therefore stuck in our collective head

b) because it is the most euphemistic psychological self delusion ever

Just as words have the powerful capacity to wound they can inspire as well.

Lofty ideals can move a nation of people:

"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."--U.S. Declaration of Independence

or remind us of our own individual uniqueness amongst many:

"To be dragged in the wake of the passive flock and to pass a hundred and one times beneath the shears of the shepherd, or to die alone like a brave eagle on a rocky crag of a great mountain: that is the dilemma." ~Praxedis Guerrero

bring out our nobility

"The best memory is that which forgets nothing but injuries. Write kindness in marble and write injuries in the dust." - Persian proverb

or point out our flaws in one succinct line

"Whether you think you can...or you think you can't, either way, you are right." - Henry Ford

encourage us towards better

"How forcible are right words!" - The Bible {book of Job}

Bring laughter for generations untold

"Say goodnight, Gracie." "Goodnight, Gracie."--Closing of Burns & Allen routines

One last quote on words...

"Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds."
Elie Wiesel - Holocaust survivor

When you think about it, words must be right up there with the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel in their impact on how we live. And just like those other two ancient tools, words need to be crafted with care as they are how we define our humanity.


  1. Oh my, but i love this blog as i love words and language too. i'll repeat what i said in the previous blog: what is a trip to market without returning with a punnet of some type of berry? or 3 or more than one type of berry in 3 or 4 punnets, i say?

    as i struggle with the german language it becomes more and more apparent much of english comes from the old Platdeutsch which the invaders brought to the british isles when they invaded.

    of course english is made up of many other languages too. such a rich language which will always delight me to read and play with.

    i leave you with the recommendation of a marvelous book about english, in case you haven't had a chance to read it as yet: The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language

    if punnet isn't used in America, let me bat a word which isn't used in Britain your way: rambunctious. my american cousin had a rambunctious dog and when she explained him as such, i had to ask her what it meant.

    berries grew in the garden i grew up in rambunctiously is probably not the correct usage of the word, but never mind. i'm wondering if your blackberries upon your Blackberry Hill may make it into punnets, Indie?

  2. Speaking of words which sound pretty, yet have a dark meaning: saturnine.

    who would wish to be dubbed sullen?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Removed because it was a double post — not, i wish it to be known, because it was rude or offensive. heaven forbid!

  5. i disagree! there is a beauty to melancholy in it's meaning, too.