Thursday, 4 February 2010

735 - Coinage

I remember a long simile in a linguistics book linking words to coins, the syntax and semantics on one face, the phonetics on the other.

But words aren't just like coins, they are coins, I think. They take a little effort to create, share, and remember, so they're definitely work, and money is a work battery. We say they have currency, meaning both that they're presently in use, and that they're in use, in flow, in community.

Like coinage, the meaning of words is ascribed by people, and defaced by them. Parity of semantics occurs across cultures, but cannot be used unless a phonetic exchange rate is established. Or the sounds can be celebrated, like the bare weight, shape, and imprint of sestertii in the hands of a British numismatist, cross-culturally, where the meaning, te amore, is less certain.

They can be shuffled around, and each unit used in varying quantities, to sum to a larger thought. To be or not to be. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/ Or to take arms against a sea of troubles/ And, by opposing, end them. Both sentences mean the same, though one hangs heavier, like a fist of shrapnel.

And one can be word-rich, which spent in story-form buys one a meal or a bed for the night or for life. People value words, like they value gold. The spending of words is a sign of generosity.

Words inspire a deep morality, though no deeper, perhaps, than a balance sheet. The grandson of a publisher, I had many, though not so much cash. At 33 I gave them away. Now they fall into my lap. But I'll die in silence.

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