Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tongue Twitters

A friend came across the word "bristle," as a verb: to bristle, to become angry, afraid, or indignant. He had never heard of that usage, and thought it was funny. It comes from the noun bristle, meaning a short, stiff hair or hairlike object. When people or animals become afraid, the hair on their necks sometimes becomes stiff, like a bristle. (The hog bristled with fear. He bristled up in anger.) I like the word. And it made me wonder about the word brush, since a brush has bristles. Brush can also be a noun or verb, and it has various meanings. It's something to use to clean hair or teeth, shoes or floors. And it's the action of cleaning with those. There are also some idioms: "brush up on" means to review; I need to brush up on my French before I go to Quebec. "Brush aside" or "brush off" means to dismiss abruptly: He brushed off their criticisms and continued on. You can "brush against" something, touching it lightly as you pass. Any more?

Another word of interest to me is "drunk." It's the past participle of drink. But of course, it's also an adjective meaning "intoxicated," and a noun, meaning a person who is habitually and disgracefully in that state. In recent years, I've noticed people using "drank" as the past participle: I've drank a lot of beer in my life. I'd drank a few glasses of wine when I got in the car. I think people have started avoided using the correct past participle because of the possibility of making themselves or their friends sound like derelicts. If they say, for example, "He's fine, officer; he's only drunk one beer," it's just too possible that the policeman will only hear the first few words. It's too close for comfort. Any opinions on this?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

triple homonym

idol, idle, idyll