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    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