Coming back soon:
There are, according to my rather old copy of the Guinness Book of Records, thirty seven meanings of the word "set". Given that my copy, hidden away somewhere in my loft, may well be ten or more years out of date, that particular record may have been broken by the work of some keen lexicographer. Somehow, though, I rather doubt that the mutation of "impact" and "interface" into verbs, or the stretching of "gay" over previously unchartered meaning has caused "set" to glance round over the shoulder and consider attracting a few more definitions before the home straight. Given, also, the scope for controversy and faction fighting within the world of compilers of dictionaries, the number of thirty seven may be disputed by some. Given both of these caveats, even an appeal to common knowledge would make "set" a front runner.
Collection, solidification, intent, readiness, badger dwelling; each main branch of meaning containing twigs of subtle variation. These are the territories of but three letters that constitute "set".
This seems a little greedy to me. It is a feat of indecent imperialism when there are other, much grander words floating around with barely an meanings at all.
The presidency of the United States of America, a nation often noted for imperialism of a cultural, if not political, variety would therefore seem an odd camp to find some words of limited scope. I have, though, been struck by the use of the word "impeachment" throughout the coverage of the various kinds of affairs of President Clinton. My Collins English tells me that there is in fact a second meaning: a similar process of trial by peers in the British parliament. It seems, though, that in practice, Bill has got the word pretty much to himself.
Then there is "grassy knoll". Now, my dictionary defines the words, separately of course, as though they could cover a huge number of possible land areas throughout the world. There is no mention that in combination they take on any presidential qualities, yet you and I know that there is only one "grassy knoll" on the planet. It is the one from which President Kennedy was probably not shot back in 1963.
Could not, in a spirit of sharing and co-operation, "set" give over a few meanings to some of these impoverished presidential words. Why not have a jelly that impeaches after two hours in the fridge, or families of badgers living content in grassy knolls? I hereby launch a campaign to redistribute the wealth of meaning.
I fear, though, that there is more work to be done before our word problems are overcome. Not only do we have definitional poverty to tackle, but inappropriate verbal application. Even the very young are subjected to poor treatment in this respect. This fact was not apparent to me until I came across the literature aimed at Nathan, my sixteen month old son, and others of his generation.
We have a suite of books, housed in an attractive, if now somewhat battered, cardboard sleeve, comprising six volumes of words categorised into six different settings. We have ‘Shopping Words', ‘Animal Words', ‘Bedtime', ‘Outdoor', ‘Toy' and ‘Mealtime Words'. Take as an example the last mentioned tome of the list. Inside, each word is allocated an entire page and is accompanied by a sequence of illustrative drawings. Among the contents are ‘spoon' ‘apple', ‘bowl', ‘cup' and a few others. The authors have, as far as I can detect, either no sense of appropriateness, or they are childrens' authors without children of their own. I cannot believe that a publisher of repute would allow the latter situation, so I must deduce the former to be true. Had they any effective ability to allocate suitable words to the various settings, they would have come up with rather different words for ‘mealtime' than ‘spoon', ‘apple' and the others.
Following from my launch of an appeal to more fairly distribute meaning, here, then, is my second contribution to the verbal world today. A new list of words for these situations, which I think most parents will recognise as being a better reflection of reality.