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?
You know I hate it when everyone shouts at once. Form an orderly line and enter your answers below. Reload in a different window before submitting to make sure somebody didn't just give the answer you were going to give: Language Log quizzes tend to get answers submitted within about nine minutes of appearance.
OK, as you see, it took less than half an hour on a slow Sunday night for someone to spot that the astonishingly polysemous noun charge bears all of the above senses, and Tim Silverman is the winner, beating catsidhe by less than a minute. You can look the word up on Webster's here. A charge may be the load of explosive in a bullet or shell or an accumulation of electricity or some metaphorically similar force (a poem can carry an emotional charge); a charge may be placed on you in the sense of an obligation or duty; you can get a charge out of doing something exciting; being in charge of something means managing it and being in someone's charge is being in their custody; if you are the guardian of some young people they are described as your charges; the judge gives a charge to a jury; you can notice illicit charges on your credit card bill; there may be a charge for some service; a library has a charge on a book when its records show that it has been lent out; and if you commit a crime you may find a criminal charge brought against you.
How the hell do we manage with a word that has this many meanings?
I didn't even get to all its senses; I was going to include "onrushing military assault, especially of infantry or cavalry", but I simply forgot that one. There are several others that could have been added. And then a whole lot more meanings for the related verb.
I really don't do lexical semantics, but I really am struck by the astonishing degree of polysemy in English: words that have multiple meanings, sometimes recognizably if distantly related (charge has an etymology going back to the same Latin root as the word car), but sometimes apparently a thousand miles away from each other conceptually. Prescriptivists get so red-faced furious about the idea that a word might develop a new meaning or function (that disinterested might pick up a second meaning "bored" alongside "unbiased", for example); but they never say a word about most of the cases of rampant polysemy in the dictionary.
Charge is not just ambiguous, having two separable meanings; it is multifariously, outrageously, promiscuously polysemous. What it suggests is that human languages do not strive to avoid ambiguity. They do not try to align words with meanings one to one. It follows (since things don't fall apart just because we have thousands of words like charge) they are not in danger of anarchy when a new word sense evolves. People don't just tolerate languages with multiply polysemous words, they seem to love them; they thrive on multiplicity of meaning. There are thousands of examples that show this. It is only the prescriptivist thickheads who cannot see what that means…
But wait a minute; I seem to have said some of this before.