Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Archive for July, 2010

The Edges of Water and of Words

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Brock Putnam made a comment on riparian that brought to light a guiding principle I use in writing both the glossaries that Lexiteria produces and the daily Good Words on alphaDictionary. He wrote:

I’m most used to encountering it as part of a legal term: “riparian rights.” Several court cases (at least one of which went to the US Supreme Court some forty years ago) were concerned with riparian rights – the right of access to beachfront or waterfront land.

Usually, the issue is a contest between people who own waterfront (usually beachfront) property and the right of the public to have access to it. A significant case in New Jersey went all the way to the Supremes: the final decision of the court went back through American law, English common law, and finally resided in provision of the Magna Carta!

One of my editors made this point, too. I decided that the second part of my definition, “related to the bank of a body of fresh water”, covered the legal sense of the word. One of my peeves with traditional dictionaries is that they multiply definitions to the point that they overlap up to 90%.

I try to find what meanings have in common and create definitions that are general enough to cover as many traditional definitions as possible. You may have noticed yourself what I’ve been observing for decades: outside techincal vocabularies, the meanings of words tend to be vague and fuzzy, especially around the edges.

Buckets about Buckets

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Buckets of bucketsMy wife and I just drove past a house in our newest McMansion development and my wife noticed a tree with buckets hanging from its limbs. She asked my opinion as to why someone would want hang buckets from a tree. I didn’t know for sure but immediately set my imagination to the task of resolving the issue with relish on gusto.

  • To symbolize how much money they have?
  • To symbolize how much money the property cost them?
  • In hopes someone would help pay the maintenance costs on the house?
  • Too much chlorine in their tap water?
  • They prefer acid to fluoride in their water?

My immediate association was with the phrase “buckets of money”. As I sat there waiting for her to stop laughing, I wondered why we keep saying “buckets of money” at a time when a bucket of money wouldn’t cover a car payment.

But that led to thinking about bucket in general. I floats almost effortlessly though the catalog of English idioms. “To kick the bucket” led to the “bucket list”, which I’ve heard two people use recently. This is after the Morgan Freeman-Jack Nicholson movie of the same name about two men working their way through a list of things they wish to do before they kick the bucket (die).

That led to sweet remembrances of the British comedy series “Keeping Up Appearances” with Patricia Routledge playing Hyacinth Bucket, who insisted her name be pronounced “bouquet”.

Of course, buckets is a fairly common synonym for lots: buckets of love, buckets of money, buckets of whatever we have lots of. It is a common word that does a yeoman’s work for English and makes us laugh doing it.