Monday, December 2, 2013

Double duty

Many words do double duty, or even triple duty or more. That is, they have multiple meanings, and sometimes those meanings seem unrelated to each other. You can, for example, draw a picture, draw a card, draw a bath, draw money out of your bank account and draw a gun. Or you can play chess to a draw.

Recently while reading two historical novels, both set in England, I came across a couple of words that were used in old, but now obscure, ways. Both times I was caught a bit by surprise because I did not remember ever seeing these words used in these ways before.

First, here's a line from the Charles Finch novel A Death in the Small Hours: "The third case was one of uttering, as it had long been known, or passing bad coin." Fortunately Finch explains what this use of the word uttering means, so it wasn't necessary to look it up in a dictionary, but I did anyway. The third definition of the word utter in my American Heritage Dictionary says it's a legal term meaning "to put (counterfeit money, for example) into circulation." A fourth definition of the word is "to publish." This makes perfect sense when you realize that even the first definition of the word is "to send forth with the voice," as in uttering a cry. Both spending bad money and publishing a book also involve "sending forth."

Then in Kept, D.J. Taylor's novel, I found the phrase "having spent half an hour recruiting himself over a copy of Punch." Just two pages later I read, "I was bidden to recruit myself with a glass of wine." Turning again to the American Heritage Dictionary, I find that the sixth definition of the word recruit is "to renew or restore the health, vitality, or intensity of." Again, this more obscure definition isn't really that far removed from the more standard one in use today. Armies recruit soldiers and teams recruit players to make themselves stronger. So someone might recruit themselves, or reinvigorate themselves, by reading a humor magazine or drinking a glass of wine.

No comments:

Post a Comment