K is a Rare Bird
K is the fifth least frequently used letter in the English language, after J, X, Q, and Z, with a frequency of about 0.8% in words. When I asked for a K word, people had difficulty thinking of one because they are rare in our language. Somebody suggested Kindness and i said that’s a beautiful word, what more do you need to say about kindness than “Be kind.”
When in Doubt, Check the Dictionary Out!
So, I lugged my trusty Webster’s Third New International Unabridged Dictionary in 3 volumes (published in 1959) from the shelf. I’ve pasted it together with scotch tape because it’s coming apart. Now, you may call me a dinosaur for using an actual book but that wouldn’t be fair. I use a dictionary app on my phone every day to look up a meaning or find a synonym. But that’s no comparison to the thrill i get of flinging open the heavy cover of my Webster’s and being rewarded with an ocean of gorgeous words to dive into!
So, i went to K and, like an oracle, i sightlessly stuck my finger down to find a word that i thought was interesting, K-E-E-N. I liked it right away because it’s one of these fascinating words in English that has two very, very distinct meanings.
Learning English, Oh My!
For a while, back in the 80’s, I taught English as a second language to adults. Let me say, I applaud anyone who can learn it later in life because there seem to be more exceptions than rules! Conjugating verbs is a horror and spelling is impossible! How easy is it to explain the difference between there, their and they’re, which all sound the same?!
Keen is Mean!
Keen is a good example of this difficulty. The first meaning which comes from the old English is ‘sharp’ as a knife, or intellectually astute. It was a favorite slang word in 1940’s New York meaning really terrific or being on the ball. The addition of ‘peachy’ made it all the more glamorous or enticing. Here the word represents a quality.
And then it has this other completely different meaning from the Celtic which is to cry out, often to lament after something tragic has happened. You hear the women keening after the death of the monarch, for instance. Here the word represents a sound. So, isn’t that interesting? One word spelled the same, yet it has two completely distinct meanings.
Walk Softly and Carry a Big Dictionary!
This may explain why we have difficulty communicating. We can be using familiar words and yet not really understanding each other because we are accepting different definitions for the very same word! Words are dangerous—be careful what you say!
Peace and Love Always,
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