Saturday, December 15, 2012


Even native speakers of English sometimes have trouble with words because of a confusing feature: multiple meanings. If a word is old enough, it probably will have accumulated layers of meaning—sometimes astonishingly contradictory.

Richard from Empire, Michigan, pointed out that such a word is key. The meaning that comes to mind immediately is the notched metal device used to lock or unlock a door or other barrier. From there, it becomes a wild ride. Branching meanings include
  • spiritual authority (Matthew 16:19)
  • a symbol of office
  • a symbol of access, as in key to the city
  • a means to a desired objective
  • a position with strategic advantages
  • a bribe or inducement
  • a solution or explanation
  • a means of decrypting a code or cipher
  • the part of a textbook  that contains solutions
  • a list containing an explanation of symbols, abbreviations, etc.
  • in botany and zoology, descriptive features used in identification
  • an essential element
  • in chess, the first move in the solution of a problem
  • a central stone in an arch
  • a piece of wood or metal that locks parts together
  • a dry fruit
  • an instrument for turning tuning pegs of a stringed instrument
  • an instrument for winding a clock
  • a component that opens or closes a valve
  • the roughness of a surface that enables plaster to adhere to it
  • the free-throw lane and circle in basketball
  • a note or a tone
  • the tenor of a piece of writing
  • the prevailing tones in a painting
  • a lever on a musical instrument
  • a lever on a telegraph, computer, etc.
  • something of crucial importance

Then there’s the key that means a low-lying island or reef and the slang use of key that means a kilogram of an illegal drug,

Now I’m all keyed up.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

Nook edition

Check out Mike's program-based books here:

Listen to Mike’s program in real time every Tuesday morning, 9:10 - 10:00 a.m. EST, by going to and clicking on Listen Now. You’ll also find about a month’s worth of podcasts there under The Ron Jolly Show.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Dona Sheehan's prints