anon: (archaic or literary)
- in a short time; soon

50:50 vision

80:20 insight

A play on words

How often do you stop to think, really think, about the last couple of things you said. I suppose sometimes the words just mean what you intended … but not always.

The other day someone said to me (about two cats she is looking after temporarily), “They’re not big bird hunters”. Now I know what was meant – ‘they don’t hunt birds very much’. But it could have meant: ‘they don’t hunt big birds’ (and, perhaps by implication, they do hunt small ones).

On a similar theme, what about “big game hunters”?

  • they hunt big game
  • they are big and hunt game
  • they are big, game for anything (!), and are hunters
The way we (in English) swap the attachment of adjectives without moving or qualifying  them … and still know perfectly what is meant … is quite astonishing, and probably very puzzling for people trying to learn our language and idioms.

Take ‘cheese biscuits’ (biscuits made with cheese or as an accompaniment for cheese), and  ‘chocolate biscuits’ (made with chocolate) – seems quite straight forward. Contrast these with ‘cat biscuits’ (to the relief of foreigners, not made with cat), or ‘digestive biscuits’ (absolutely no idea at all!).

My all-time favourite has to be what happens when a tree, a person, and an axe come together:

- the tree is chopped down, and then it’s chopped up.

I do love our language – a pity so many native-speakers have virtually no grasp of it at all.


James – More Anon

One Response to A play on words

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