Happy to be here — From cut to Farkleberry

Published 8:36 am Monday, January 9, 2023

Some of you have been asking about my progress reading Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. My original, overly optimistic plan entailed reading it, all 1,459 pages of definitions, during the course of one year. After my second full year, I can report that I’ve reached the early pages of the letter F. 

As 2022 began, I still needed to finish C. Measured according to the number of pages occupied by an individual letter, C (143 pages) is the second-longest in my dictionary. The longest is S (178 pages). At my current pace, it will be another couple of years before I get that far.

Near the end of C, one of my favorite encounters involved the simple three-letter word, cut. You know what cut means. As a verb, it refers to something you do with scissors or a knife (She cut the cake). As a noun, it refers to what the scissors or knife did (She made the cut next to the lettering.) What surprised me was the variety of other meanings attached to such a simple word. For example, it really cut her (hurt her feelings) when he criticized the cake.

Let’s look a little more deeply into this domestic squabble. She was irritated because the baby had been crying a lot while a new tooth was cut (emerged). So, she retaliated by making fun of his inability to cut the ball (to strike with a glancing blow that induces spin) while playing tennis. Because of his lackluster performance, he did not make the cut (attain a performance level sufficient to be deemed worthy), so he was cut (eliminated) from the team. He stomped out to the car, cut on the engine (turned it on), and drove off. He cut (turned the wheel sharply) into a friend’s driveway. 

They listened to an album his friend’s band had recently cut (recorded). A group arrived and started a card game, so he cut the deck (split it). When the game was over, he took his cut (share of the winnings). In a better mood, he decided to cut (give) her some slack, so he cut through town (took a direct course), and stopped to buy her a new outfit that would cut a fine figure (create a good impression) when they cut (skipped) class that night to cut the rug (dance) at a party.

In D, I encountered the word debone: I’ll need to debone that chicken to make this recipe. The definition, to take bones out, was the same as a definition I’d previously encountered under the word bone. Apparently, the two words that sound like opposites mean the same thing.

I have also encountered words that mean seemingly opposite things all by themselves. For example, to dust something can involve removing fine particles from its surface (dust a table) or it can mean adding fine particles to a surface (to dust a cake with powdered sugar). To enjoin can be to issue an order requiring something (the leader enjoined us to be cautions) or to forbid something (the judge enjoined the company’s board members from taking a questionable action). According to one definition, a fable is a story or legend used to enforce a useful truth. Another definition says a fable is a lie.

This past year’s exploration of the dictionary also introduced me to some words I hadn’t previously encountered. Did you know that there’s a word, defenestration, that means to throw someone out a window? I was surprised to discover that the action was sufficiently significant to warrant its own vocabulary, so I investigated. Apparently, during earlier ages, throwing a person out a castle window was a form of execution. That was more somber than I expected. A newer definition proved more entertaining: throwing out Windows, as in removing a certain operating system from a computer in favor of something else.

I ended the year with a delightful discovery: farkleberry (a blueberry relative). I love the sound of it. It’s like fun and sparkle got together for some merrymaking. Simply saying the word makes me smile. I hope your new year is filled with all the fun and sparkle of the word farkleberry.

Karen Bellenir has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress.com.