Volume 76, Number 7 | July 5 - 11, 2006

Talking Point

Words, words; Do we know what we’re talking about?

By Daniel Meltzer

The administration is now offering to negotiate with Iran if it promises not to make nuclear bombs. If it doesn’t promise, the U.S. and its allies may impose sanctions on Tehran.

According to Webster’s, “to sanction” means to condemn and/or punish. It also means to approve. Should we sanction the Iranians? Or should we sanction them?

Attention potential negotiators; English is tricky. We think we know what we are talking about. Do we?

* If you say you work out of your home do you mean that you work in your home?

* Is what’s up different from what’s going down?

* Is being hot better than being cool? Can the latest cool thing also be hot?

* Is far out in?

* You can have breakfast, you can have lunch, you can have dinner and leave the table satisfied. But you can’t have your cake and eat it. Why not?

* If Reds are Commies, then why are Republican states called red states?

* If to be a conservative, according to Webster’s dictionary, means “tending to preserve established institutions or methods,” and “radical” means “favoring basic or extreme change,” then what is a “radical conservative?”

* Is it better to have the glass half full or half empty? Half empty is better than empty, but half full is only half as good as full.

* After you have raised a building and decided that you don’t like it, should you raze it?

* To cleave means to divide or split. It also means to stick together. “Oh, Hamlet, thou hath cleft my heart in twain,” says Queen Gertrude, in dismay over her son’s presumed madness. Then again, what might we say of cleavage, that frontal feminine divide to which men are irresistibly drawn to cleave, or attach themselves?

* A continent is a landmass. You can be ON The Continent, but to be INcontinent is something else entirely. You can get to The Continent on Continental, and then drive around it in a Continental. Although a Fiat would be more practical. For the record, it is possible to be incontinent on the Continent or even in a Continental. But it is far better not to be.

* A peer is your equal. In Great Britain, a peer is a person of high rank or noble birth. A peer would only be your peer, then, if you were also a peer. A pier is someplace to board or leave a ship. You could go to the pier with a group of your peers to greet a peer stepping off his yacht. Or you might merely peer at him as he disembarks.

* A fire puts out flames. So does a firefighter.

* A director may screen, or look at, footage from his film, but he may screen critics from those seeking entrance to his screening room so they don’t get a premature peek at his work.

* A film editor splices scenes together. An electrician splices wires apart.

* A pitcher’s windup is the start of his motion before he throws the ball toward the plate. The goal is to have it wind up in the catcher’s mitt. Unless it winds up over the left field fence.

* To throw means to send flying. But a throw, or a throw rug, just lies there; on your sofa, or on the floor.

* American Indians aren’t Indians, because Indians are people from India. Nor are they Native Americans, because they were natives here before it was America, which was named for an Italian explorer named Amerigo Vespucci. Someone needs to ask the tribal leaders what their ancestors called this continent before Christopher Columbus, another Italian, sailing on behalf of the Queen of Spain for what he thought was India, landed instead on Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans, then, might justly argue that they were the first Americans.

* So, do we sanction (condemn) Iran? Or should we sanction (approve) it’s nuclear program? Split atoms? Split hairs? Isn’t a split a full bottle of champagne? Or is it half full? Half empty?

* And you thought Iraq was complicated.

Meltzer, the author of “The Square Root of Love” and other plays, teaches critical thinking at Marymount Manhattan College

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