Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Familiar Things

Have you ever noticed how things can become so familiar that they're invisible? You just don't see them anymore. They have become part of the furniture. Words do that, as well as a host of other things. But words, being a tool that we use all the time and a lot, tend to be taken for granted very easily.

This morning on my way to work I saw the word urgent on a political poster. What shocked me was using children to make a political statement. I thought it was a cheap shot. Probably for that reason, I started thinking about the words on the poster. French forms its present continuous by adding the suffix -ent or -ant. The word urgent is therefore urging in English, if we disregard the fact that the verb in itself is from the French urger, in the same way that the word compelling is formed. I had never thought of urgent in those terms.

Another part of the furniture is the word important, which is built in the same way as urgent. The French verb used in this case is importer, which means to matter. But for William the Conqueror in 1066, today we would be saying mattering, instead of important. "This deal is very mattering for our company."

There are a lot of these parts of the furniture in our midst. We don't see them and we don't realise they're there, until we stub our toe on them.

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