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    One Word, Many Meanings: bound

    Thursday, May 03, 2012

    The word bound is another term that can have many different uses in English.

    As a verb…
    bound can mean

    • tied or wrapped (past tense of bind).
      She bound her hair with a ribbon.
      The nurse bound
      the wound tightly.
    • leap or bounce. 
      We watched the dog bound across the field.
      (The past tense of bound is bounded.)

    As an adjective…
    bound can mean

    • connected or fastened.
      She was bound to her ailing sister by love and by guilt.
      Her long hair was bound with ribbons of red satin.
    • headed for a destination.
      The train was Seattle bound.
    • very likely.
      The storm was bound to hit soon.

    As a noun…
    bound can be

    • a leap or a bounce.
      The victory put a bound in his step.
    • a limit or a boundary (used in plural form).
      The action was outside the bounds of decency.

    In idioms…
    bound is frequently used in the following ways.

    • Out of bounds points to a metaphorical limit.
      That line of questioning was out of bounds.
    • Bound up, similar to caught up, indicates preoccupation.
      She was so bound up in the music that she didn't hear us arrive.

    The more you immerse yourself in the English language, the more your writing will positively impact your readers. So take some time now and then to explore a dictionary or a thesaurus—just for fun. You're bound to enjoy it.

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by Emery Way

    One Word, Many Meanings: table

    Monday, April 16, 2012

    Even simple English words can have several different meanings, table being a perfect example.

    As a noun…
    a table might be

    • a piece of furniture with a flat surface supported by several legs or a pedestal, usually used for serving food or playing a game;
    • any flat or level geographical feature, including a plateau or the level below which water wholly saturates the ground (a water table);
    • an abbreviated list or an arrangement of related words or numbers in columns and rows, such as a table of contents in a book, a mathematical table displaying related data, or the periodic table of elements.

    As a verb…
    table is usually transitive, needing an object, and it has three separate meanings:

    • to postpone discussion or consideration, as in The committee will table that proposal until the research results are finalized.
    • to lay something on a table, as in Table your books so the staff can mop the floor.
    • to enter in a list or table, as in After Dr. Ian tables his data, we can compare our findings.

    As an adjective…
    table describes whatever may be placed on a table:

    • a table setting, for example, refers to a set of eating utensils for one person, and
    • a table cover refers to a cloth placed over a table.

    In idioms…
    table appears in the following phrases:

    • To turn the tables means "to cause a reversal that gains the advantage."
    • Under the table has two meanings, the first being a secret transaction, as in They made the offer under the table, and the second describing inebriation, as in He drank his competitor under the table.
    • On the table refers to an offer submitted for approval, as in Our proposal was on the table, awaiting the board's decision.

    The simple word table, for its versatility, enriches the English language. What other such words can you think of?

    —Joyce Becker Lee

    Photo by dalbera

    One Word, Many Meanings: counter

    Tuesday, January 31, 2012

    In our increasingly interconnected world, English plays a dramatic role in business. Consequently, it pays to recognize that many English words can serve as different parts of speech, often with very different meanings. One such example is the word counter.

    As a noun…
    counter is commonly used in the following ways (among others):

    • a flat marker used in games
    • a long, level surface where transactions are conducted (e.g., a display counter) or where food and drink are prepared or served (as opposed to a table, which is generally lower and not as long)
    • a person or device that counts
    • a stiffener around or within the heel area of the upper part of a shoe

    As a verb…
    counter is typically used in one of the following ways:

    • to oppose (as in working against a current trend)
    • to defend or react (as in a debate or in the game of chess)

    As an adjective, adverb, or prefix…
    counter conveys negation, opposition, or reverse action, as in these examples:

    • The results were counter to expectations. (predicate adjective)
    • Jeeves acted counter to my express wishes. (adverb)
    • We added a counterbalance to even the scales. (prefix)

    In idioms…
    counter can be used to indicate the sale of nonprescription drugs (over-the-counter medications) or a secret, perhaps illegal transaction (payment under the counter).

    For both native English speakers and for those who use English as a second language, being aware that a single word can convey many meanings is helpful—especially as we strive for clear communication within a global business community.

    —Joyce Lee

    Photo by Thomas Bresson

    As You, Like, Like It

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    "Like" is a frequently misused word nowadays. Basically, there are just two correct uses: as a preposition when presenting a comparison…

    "Time creeps like a turtle."

    and as a verb meaning "to have positive feelings for"…

    "Bears like honey."

    Often, however, "like" is misused as a conjunction, when "as" should be used instead. Consider the old cigarette advertisement that erroneously declared, "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should." While the ad campaign was memorable, the grammar was wrong. So wrong, in fact, that you can use it as a memory aid for how not to use "like."

    In recent decades, "like" has also become used as a casual "filler" word in popular vernacular, especially among the young: "So we were, like, going to meet, like, at the park. But then it, like, started to rain." It is also often coupled with a form of "be" for use in place of "said": "So I was like, 'I don't believe it,' and he was like, 'It's totally true.'" Neither of these uses is acceptable for business.

    That casual employment has, however, led to one possible permanent addition to "like's" repertoire. In a Vanity Fair article a couple of years ago, Christopher Hitchens quoted novelist Ian McEwan as suggesting that as an interjection, "like" creates hyperbole and emphasis, as in the statement, "It was, like, the worst movie ever." Still, we would not suggest this usage for business communication.

    So why bother discussing these casual usages of "like" at all? Well, language does slowly shift and change, especially spoken language. (See our blog entry, "Not Just One but Four Grammars—And Why That's Good.") So what might be unthinkable in one context (such as a report or a formal speech) might be more acceptable in another (a casual brainstorming session, for example). Only by understanding the difference between formal rules and casual usage can we be certain to communicate effectively.

    —Joyce Lee

    P.S. As a fun exercise, count how many times a construction with "as" appears above. In which of them might someone mistakenly use "like"? J.L.

    Photo by Paolo Camera


    Wednesday, November 30, 2011

    English is a language of synonyms, multiple words with similar meanings. At first, that might seem wasteful. But it allows for nuance, subtle differences that convey added meaning. And it allows for concision.

    As an example, let's consider that word concision in comparison with its sibling conciseness. They're both noun forms of the adjective concise, meaning "short and to the point." But concision carries the added sound of precision. In some contexts, it might even echo incision—being direct or "cutting to the heart of the matter."

    In addition, at just nine letters, concision is a better model of terseness than the eleven-lettered conciseness. What's more, concision's final syllable simply "sounds" more to the point than its sibling's.

    Of course, conciseness is the more common word, which means it gets the idea across without drawing attention to itself. Most often, then, you're likely best served by conciseness. If you want to emphasize terseness, however, concision does the trick.

    —Lester Smith

    Photo by Creative Tools