Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Beware of polysemy"

...according to Pillai 1983:202 [a Malayalam-English dictionary], the Malayalam word kʌkʂʌ means not only ‘girth rope of an elephant’, but also ‘waistband of a woman, a courtyard, a surrounding wall, inner room or harem of a palace, objection or reply in an argument, the orbit of a planet, a boil in the armpit, armpit, flank, river side, forest, dry grass, bull or buffalo, a hiding place, harem, scale of a balance, sin, a tortoise, a treasure of Kubera, a narrow undercloth covering the privities [sic], a dog, a harem supervisor, a poet, a painter, a debauchee’!
From Linguistic Field Methods by Bert Vaux and Justin Cooper. English has some striking polysemous words of its own, such as the answers to these riddles (which can be found in the linked posts):
What do loads, accumulations, obligations, and (idiomatic) kicks have in common with management, custody, people in care, sets of instructions, expenditures, liabilities, prices, loan records, and allegations?
What do support poles, staff positions, battery terminals, army encampments, blog articles, earring stems, trading stations, and snail mail have in common with billboard advertising, accounts recording, making bail, and assigning diplomats?

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