« previous post | next post »

In a series of Language Log posts, Geoff Pullum has called attention to the prevalence of polysemy and ambiguity:

The people who think clarity involves lack of ambiguity, so we have to strive to eliminate all multiple meanings and should never let a word develop a new sense… they simply don't get it about how language works, do they?

Languages love multiple meanings. They lust after them. They roll around in them like a dog in fresh grass.

The other day, as I reading a discussion in our comments about whether English draftable does or doesn't refer to the same concept as Finnish asevelvollisuus ("obligation to serve in the military"), I happened to be sitting in a current of uncomfortably cold air. So of course I wondered how the English word draft came to refer to military conscription as well as air flow. And a few seconds of thought brought to mind several others senses of the the noun draft and its associated verb. I figured that this must represent a confusion of several originally separate words. But then I looked it up.

The OED explains that the origin of all of these various senses is a "verbal abstract from Common Germanic dragan to draw"; and its list of glosses — merely for the noun form —  is an impressive one. (Senses flagged as obsolete or archaic are presented in acqua.)

"The action, or an act, of drawing or pulling, esp. of a vehicle, plough, etc."; "Drawing of breath"; "Drawing motion or action"; "That which is drawn", "A load", "A quantity drawn: used as a specific measure of something drawn, extracted, or taken up"; "A drawbridge"; "Something used in drawing or pulling, as harness for horses to draw with"; "A team of horses or other beasts of draught, together with that which they draw"; "Drawing, attraction; tendency, inclination, impulse"; "The act of drawing a net for fish, or for birds"; "A place where a net is wont to be drawn"; "The quantity of fish taken in one drawing of the net; a take"; "A measure of weight of eels, equal to 20 lbs"; "The drawing of a bow; a bowshot; also, the distance which a bow can shoot"; "The drawing or sweep of a weapon; a stroke, a blow"; "The drawing of a saw through a block of wood or stone; hence a measure of sawyers' work"; "The drawing of liquid into the mouth or down the throat; an act of drinking, a drink; the quantity of drink swallowed at one ‘pull’"; "A fanciful name for a ‘company’ of butlers"; "A dose of liquid medicine; a potion"; "Drawing of smoke or vapour into the mouth, inhaling; that which is inhaled at one breath"; "The ‘drinking in’ of something by the mind or soul; a portion of something, pleasurable or painful, ‘drunk’, partaken of, or experienced"; "The action of drawing out to a greater length, extension, stretching; concr. that which is drawn out or spun, a thread. spec. in Cotton-spinning, etc. the ‘drawing’ or elongation of the slivers by passing them between pairs of rollers revolving at different speeds"; "The action of ‘drawing’ or displacing (so much) water; the depth of water which a vessel draws, or requires to float her"; "The action of moving along course, going, way"; "Course, way of going on"; "A ‘move’ at chess or any similar game";  "pl. A game played by two persons on a board of the same kind as that used in chess, which game it somewhat resembles, though of much simpler character, all the pieces or ‘men’ being of equal value and moving alike diagonally. (In U.S. called checkers, in Scotl. dambrod.)"; "One of the pieces used in this game"; "A current, stream, flow"; "A stream course, a ravine"; "Hydraulics. The area of an opening for a flow of water"; "A current of air, esp. in a confined space, as a room or a chimney"; "An appliance for creating a draught in a fire-place; a blower"; "The drawing of a brush, pen, pencil, or the like, across a surface, so as to make a line or mark; the mark so made; a stroke"; "Drawing of figures; delineation"; "That which is drawn or delineated; a representation (of an object) by lines drawn on the surface of paper, etc.; a drawing, picture, sketch"; "Representation in sculpture; a sculptured figure"; "An outline, sketch, or design, preparatory to a completed work of art"; "Image, representation; something devised or designed like a work of art; slight or preliminary sketch or outline"; "A sketch in words; a slight or concise account, ‘outline’, abstract"; "A plan, map, chart, plot"; "A ‘plan’ of something to be constructed, as a building"; "A pattern, an outline drawing"; "A preliminary ‘sketch’ or outline of a writing or document, from which the fair or finished copy is made"; "Something drawn up or devised; a scheme, plan, design, device; a plot; an artifice"; "The withdrawing, detachment, or selection of certain persons, animals, or things from a larger body for some special duty or purpose; the party so drawn off or selected; spec. in military use"; "The ‘drawing’ or withdrawing of money from a stock by means of an order written in due form"; "A formal written order for the payment of money, ‘drawn on’, or addressed to, a person holding funds available for this purpose"; "The act of drawing forth or out; drawing (as of lots)"; "Extraction, derivation; something derived, an emanation"; "A passage of a writing; an extract"; "An extract obtained by distillation"; "The action of drawing liquor from a vessel; the condition of being ready to be so drawn"; "Cookery. The entrails of an animal drawn out"; "A mild blister or poultice that ‘draws’"; "a part of the surface of the stone, hewn to the breadth of the chisel on the margin of the stone according to the curved or straight line to which the surface is to be brought"; "The bevel given to the pattern for a casting, in order that it may be drawn from the sand without injury to the mold"; "Weaving. The succession in which the threads of the warp are inserted into the heddles of the loom in order to produce the required pattern; the plan of ‘drawing’ of a warp"; "A cesspool, sink, or sewer".

(There is also some discussion, which I skip, of the complex history of the variable usage of the spellings "draught" and "draft". Note also that the denominal verb to draft is different from the verb to draw that draft derives from historically.)

The list of senses in the American Heritage Dictionary is slightly less elaborated, but still impressive. (Here all parts of speech are given, verbal and adjective senses as well as nominal ones.)

n. A current of air in an enclosed area.
n. A device that regulates the flow or circulation of air.
n. The act of pulling loads; traction.
n. Something that is pulled or drawn; a load.
n. A team of animals used to pull loads.
n. Nautical The depth of a vessel's keel below the water line, especially when loaded: a river vessel of shallow draft.
n. A heavy demand on resources.
n. A written order directing the payment of money from an account or fund.
n. A gulp, swallow, or inhalation.
n. The amount taken in by a single act of drinking or inhaling.
n. A measured portion; a dose.
n. The drawing of a liquid, as from a cask or keg.
n. An amount drawn: ordered two drafts of ale.
n. The process or method of selecting one or more individuals from a group, as for a service or duty: a candidate who did not pursue the nomination, but accepted a draft by the party convention.
n. Compulsory enrollment in the armed forces; conscription.
n. A body of people selected or conscripted.
n. Sports A system in which the exclusive rights to new players are distributed among professional teams.
n. The act of drawing in a fishnet.
n. The quantity of fish caught.
n. Any of various stages in the development of a plan, document, or picture: a preliminary draft of a report; the final draft of a paper.
n. A representation of something to be constructed.
n. A narrow line chiseled on a stone to guide a stonecutter in leveling its surface.
n. A slight taper given a die to facilitate the removal of a casting.
n. An allowance made for loss in weight of merchandise.
v. To select from a group for some usually compulsory service: drafted into the army.
v. To select from a group for placement on a sports team.
v. To draw up a preliminary version of or plan for.
v. To create by thinking and writing; compose: draft a speech.
v. To work as a drafter.
v. To move, ride, or drive close behind a fast-moving object so as to take advantage of the slipstream, especially in a race.
adj. Suited for or used for drawing heavy loads: oxen and other draft animals.
adj. Drawn from a cask or tap: draft beer.
idiom. on draft Drawn from a large container, such as a keg.

This amply illustrates Geoff's general point. But his simile, relating languages reveling in ambiguity to dogs rolling in new-mown grass, is slightly off target. What dogs are fond of rolling in, I believe, is anything that smells strongly, especially things like feces and carrion. Tom Davis, Why Dogs Do That (1998) offers two explanations, which subvert Geoff's simile in two different ways:

There are couple of theories, by no means mutually exclusive, that explain why dogs take such obvious and unabashed delight in rolling in stuff that makes us gag: excrement, carrion (the older and fouler, the better), anything and everything that is rotten, putrid and deliquescent. And they don't just roll in it; wriggling joyfully on their backs, they do their damnedest to smear it around and rub it in. The specific hypothesis suggest that dogs roll in stinky stuff to mask their own scent, and thus gain an edge over prey species […] (Contemporary human deer hunters do much the same thing when dousing their clothing with various bottled scents.)

The other theory, more general in application, holds that it's a way for a dog to tell other dogs where they've been and what they found there. A dog streaked with excrescence is viewed by his brethren as a storyteller, and canine society hold storytellers in high esteem.

On the first explanation, polysemy is a sort of ruse that allows us to sneak up on wary concepts. On the second one, humans who love to explore etymology are like dogs avidly smelling the crap that other dogs have rubbed into their fur.

Maybe that new-mown grass, even if semantically sanitized, was a better choice after all.


  1. F said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 2:17 am

    Until very recently I thought "draught" was pronounced like "caught" and referred to (a) draughts, the British word for checkers and (b) an amount swallowed, and maybe some other things but I never connected it with "draft" until a Kiwi friend pronounced "draughts" in front of me and then it all came together. At that point we also engaged in this same game of pulling together different meanings of "draft/draught" and realizing that they all come from "draw".

  2. PeterW said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 2:25 am

    Several of the uses flagged as archaic don't strike me as being so – possibly there's a UK/US divide. Specifically:

    (1) Drawing in breath. I see this used in modern fiction all the time: i.e., "She drew in a sharp breath and let it out slowly." I'm not sure I'd use it conversationally, though.

    (2) Drawing a bow. I think this is still in common usage among bowhunters. I'm not sure about the related forms, though.

    (3) Drawbridge. What other term would you use for a bridge that raises in the middle? Downtown Chicago has several drawbridges which they call, well, "drawbridges."

    [(myl) These remain normal uses of the verb draw. But the associated uses of the noun draft (or draught) are not often seen these days.

  3. Paul said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 5:39 am

    @MYL's inspirational draft was a "current of uncomfortably cold air". This tone of discomfort is the most common "draft" usage I encounter. So, I was intrigued that the dictionaries' "current of air in an enclosed area" (AHD) or "a current of air, esp. in a confined space, as a room or a chimney" (OED) do not associate draft with either cold or discomfort. It wouldn't occur to me to call this pleasant warmth radiating from the space heater next to me as a "draft".

  4. Private Zydeco said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 6:28 am

    Allusions to "malted" and other specimens of the adjective-gone-noun
    genre withal (a feaze upon my sianted mnemonic faculties to have be-
    come so onomastically delapidated that I should forget the sanctioned
    term for same), I surmise that the morphologic difference/s between the
    words drawn and draught, is/are not incongruous in nature to that which
    distinguishes boughten and bought, searched and sought, et cetera….
    Am I pursuing an unprofitable line of inquiry to think this, or am I onto
    something at athat?

  5. UK Lawyer said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 6:51 am

    This reminds me of one of the early posts on our contract drafting blog: http://ipdraughts.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/why-is-this-blog-called-ip-draughts/

    We mentioned various meanings of draft or draught: writing contracts (our primary interest), technical drawing, beer, checkers, draught horses, and currents of air.

    I have seen several old English court judgments on contract disputes in which the judge refers to the parties drawing a contract rather than drafting it (eg "this contract is not well-drawn"), suggesting a modern back-formation or preference for draft.

    You may be right about draught being archaic for technical drawing, but like PeterW that was not my immediate (UK) reaction. Perhaps the word survives more in other forms, eg draughtsmanship is a familiar enough word.

  6. Jonathan said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 7:35 am

    This calls to mind Canon Chasuble's comment in 'The Importance of Being Earnest': 'None of us are perfect. I myself am peculiarly susceptible to draughts.' So far as I remember, he does not clarify what sort of draughts have this unfortunate effect.

  7. Russell Cross said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 9:11 am

    The latest edition of "Cognition" has a nice little article by Steven Piantadosi, Harry Tily, and Edward Gibson (2012) on "The communicative function of ambiguity in language." Not only do, as Geoff said, "languages love multiple meanings" but they would work less effectively without them! The study looks at ambiguity in English, Dutch, and German, finding that all three are happy to re-use high frequency words with different meanings. Pun lovers, who have known for years that without ambiguity there would be fewer jokes in the world, can roll around like pigs in shit with this new article to cite.

  8. Peter Taylor said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 10:07 am

    @PeterW, other available terms include bascule, hydraulic, or rising bridge. It wouldn't have occurred to me to use drawbridge, because I associate that word solely with castles.

  9. Brett said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 10:47 am

    On the bowshot question, I agree that "the drawing of a bow; a bowshot" would be "draw" in modern parlance. However, "draft" sounds much more natural to me for the third related meaning: "the distance which a bow can shoot."

  10. Fred said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 10:59 am

    Reminds me of one of my favorite lines in hiphop:

    i draw on anything for inspiration
    a fond memory, a piece of paper
    walls in a train station

  11. The Ridger said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 11:37 am

    @Peter Taylor: Like PeterW, I say "drawbridge". Your "other available terms" wouldn't occur to me, and "bascule" I never heard before.

  12. Eric P Smith said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 12:01 pm

    British usage distinguishes between 'draft', meaning the preliminary version of a piece of writing or the selection of a person or persons, and 'draught', meaning the current of cold air, the act of drinking or inhaling, the depth of water needed to float a ship, or the drawing in of a fishing net.

    In my own speech (Scottish Standard English or SSE) there is a pronunciation distinction. I say 'draft' with the vowel of TRAP, but 'draught' with the vowel of PALM. (I should add that in SSE there is not a huge difference between the two vowels.) An informal telephone poll round some SSE-speaking friends this afternoon (it's 5pm here) suggests that a sizeable minority of SSE speakers make the same distinction. I can't find any reference to such a distinction in any dictionary.

    In Southern British English, both 'draft' and 'draught' are pronounced with the vowel of PALM.

  13. Roger Lustig said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

    Mark Twain observed–and complained about–the multiplicity of meanings of the German word Zug in The Awful German Language.

    "Strictly speaking, Zug means Pull, Tug, Draught, Procession, March, Progress, Flight, Direction, Expedition, Train, Caravan, Passage, Stroke, Touch, Line, Flourish, Trait of Character, Feature, Lineament, Chess-move, Organ-stop, Team, Whiff, Bias, Drawer, Propensity, Inhalation, Disposition: but that thing which it does not mean — when all its legitimate pennants have been hung on, has not been discovered yet."

    And here we are again, discussing–but not complaining about–much the same word, or rather, an English cognate to Zug in many of the meanings he lists.

  14. Rod Johnson said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 1:00 pm

    Draw an interesting word. Two points: first, semantically and etymologically, it's also closely related to drag, to the point where draft could be the nominal form of either. You can drag/draw/take a drag/*take a draft on a cigarette, for example.

    Second, we seem to have a lot of words expressing some kind of basic set of motion, directionality, possession and control concepts. It almost feels like the rare case of a well-defined semantic space, with words coming in pairs (come and go, give and take, bring and send, push and pull, catch and throw, buy and sell, etc. Draw and drag seem to express controlled motion toward some reference point along a path. Its opposite would be drive, I guess, and draw and drive, and their nominal versions draft and drift, exhibit the surface polysemy you're noting, but with an underlying unity.

    I guess my point is that there's more than just polysemy going on here. It feels sometimes like these meanings are (to use a cliche image) like iron filings that reveal an underlying magnetic field. Whether such a family of meanings should be thought of as metaphorical uses of a synchronically "alive" abstract meaning, or just the reflexes of a long series of diachronic changes is an interesting debate.

  15. LING 255 » Blog Archive » LanguageLog post on multiplicity of meanings said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 1:13 pm

    […] in time for our class discussion next week, a nice discussion of the many meanings words can […]

  16. MattF said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

    There's a sense of 'drawing of lots' that's not at all archaic– one speaks, in describing Monte Carlo simulations, of a single run whose parameters are determined by a 'draw' from a particular statistical distribution.

  17. Joe Rembetikoff said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 2:40 pm

    I don't think the more reasonable breeds of prescriptivists object to each and every word with multiple meanings. Instead, they object to a rarer word losing a distinction between it and a more common word due to perceived sloppiness. Their frequent objections to certain uses of, for example, collide and comprise seemed reasonable enough to have influenced my own usage.
    Is there a word for the process by which a noun derived from a verb loses its association with that verb and spawns a new verb (to draft someone into the army)? How often does it occur?

  18. SlideSF said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

    One use of the word 'draw' that i didn't see in either OED or American Heritage is something akin to 'coax', as in 'drawing out' a shy or reticent person, to coax or cajole them into joining a group or revealing a personality. It's certainly related to the 'extraction' definition, but perhaps with a little more heart or soul.

    Perhaps it's my own personal fanciful etymology, but I have always thought of the act of drawing, as in draftsmanship, to be an act of coaxing an image from the mind and eye of the artist through the medium of lines or brush strokes. This notion gave me a new perspective on draftsmanship and the act of 'drawing'.

  19. Scott Underwood said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

    I've been interested in the word for a long time: my first job was as a draftsman (later drafter), drawing mechanical engineering plans. When designing parts to be made in a mold, the sides need a slight taper also called draft; this in addition to calling the preliminary sketches drafts.

    This led to the many related words and phrases (dredge, main drag, drawer, drawing room, withdrawn), but it still pleases me to see one occasionally show up on the side of delivery trucks: drayage, from a type of sideless cart called a dray, which was pulled by dray, or draft, horses. The word is still used to describe local shipping operations.

  20. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

    @Joe Rembetikoff: I don't think even unreasonable prescriptivists object to words(') having more than one meaning. Some of them may think that changes in the direction of one-word-one-meaning are good and those in the opposite direction are bad, but none of them avoid all polysemous words or propose reforming a whole natural language to monosemy or anything ridiculous like that.

    Certainly, though, some prescriptivists have made or favored proposals to establish monosemy where they saw an opportunity. For instance, disinterested means either having no conflict of interest or not caring, and uninterested means only not caring, so let's have disinterested mean only having no conflict of interest.

  21. Bob Ladd said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

    Another word with a similar profusion of meanings that all go back to one single non-obvious starting point is check. Anyone with a taste for recreational etymology will find this one just as rewarding to roll in as draft. Thanks, Mark!

  22. Adrian said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

    I think that because we Brits use the draught spelling for most of the senses, we are more likely to guess that they all come from the same origin.

  23. Brett said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

    @Jerry Friedman: The funny thing about "uninterested" and "disinterested" is that, to the extent that they may tend to mean different things, they have reversed their relative positions over time. Of course, either can be used to mean either "not finding [a matter] interesting" or "having no material interest," and this seems to have been true throughout their entire modern histories.

    However, when the primary meaning of "interest" was financial, "uninterested" was more inclined toward a financial meaning. This is natural, since "uninterested" is the seemingly more basic negated form. On the other hand, "disinterested," when used to draw a distinction, was used to indicate a negation of the less popular meaning of "interested." Structurally, the pattern of using "uninterested" as the negation of the more common meaning and "disinterested" as the negation of the less common meaning has not changed. However, the relative importances of the two meanings of "interested" have swapped.

  24. Draft (polysemy and ambiguity) « Another Word For It said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

    […] Draft by Mark Liberman […]

  25. Private Zydeco said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 8:19 pm


  26. Xmun said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 8:58 pm

    Re draught as a homophone of draft. There's an epigram by Sir John Harington which has "laughter" rhyming with "daughter" (but the spellings in the manuscript are "lafter" and "dafter"), thus: "then you should turne your angrie frown to lafter | as oft as in mine armes you see your dafter./"
    Cited from The Epigrams of Sir John Harington, ed. Gerard Kilroy (Ashgate, 2009), book 2, no. 46 (p. 146).
    Evidence, I take it, of an earlier pronunciation, now presumably obsolete everywhere.

  27. Chad Nilep said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

    @PeterW, MYL, Brett

    As I recall in my youth (1970s and 1980s, North Dakota) the draft of a bow referred not specifically to the distance it could shoot but to the weight required to draw it (which is obviously correlated).

    I've also used the expression "a draft of breath" to mean a deep inhalation. And of course draft horses were common in youth (still are, I presume), though I don't know whether their name refers to "a load" or "the act of pulling" one.

  28. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 22, 2012 @ 10:33 pm

    Like F at the beginning of the thread, I long thought (well, until this morning) that "draught" was pronounced to rhyme with "caught" and was not a homophone of "draft" (although I expected the words had a common origin and knew that BrEng sometimes used draught where AmEng used draft, as for horses, beer, and airflow). I was provoked by this discussion to actually go back to listen to what I had in the back of my mind as confirming evidence of my view (the Kinks singing the lines "We are the Draught Beer Preservation Society / God save Mrs. Mopp and good old Mother Riley) and was taken aback to hear an /f/ right after the vowel, somewhat buried in the mix, which I'd never previously noticed in decades listening to the song. I may have been faked out by their draught having the same vowel as caught, but I expect that's the same phenomenon that causes "rather" to sometimes be represented in US eye-dialect for how Brits talk as "rawther" (not just "rahther"). Are there any other words whose standard modern spelling ends in -ght where the old yogh comes out as /f/ rather than being silent? (By ending in -ght I mean just that; "laughed" and "laughter" are ineligible.)

    I'm not sure I can situate a famous Biblical use of "draught" as squarely fitting *any* of the vast multitude of OED/AHD definitions, i.e. the King James Version's "whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught." This is certainly not the same meaning as the miraculous draught of fishes found elsewhere in the Gospels but may be some sort of 17th century euphemism. The Douay-Rheims (where the Greek was mediated through the Vulgate's "in secessum emittitur") has the archaic-but-understandable "cast out into the privy" and indeed my Liddell & Scott gives "a privy" as well as "the draught" for the underlying Greek noun (aphedron). The first few modern translations I looked at rather prissily recast the sentence to avoid the issue altogether.

  29. Xmun said,

    January 23, 2012 @ 12:05 am

    @J .W. Brewer
    May I recommend going to http://dialognaporoge.blogspot.com/2010_04_01_archive.html
    and scrolling down to where you will see a reproduction of the illustration accompanying Harington's poem beginning "A godly father sitting on a draught | To do as neede, and nature hath us taught;" (reproduced from his A New Discourse of the Metamorphosis of Ajax).

  30. Xmun said,

    January 23, 2012 @ 12:07 am

    That's to say, scrolling down to Thursday 15 April 2010.

  31. Xmun said,

    January 23, 2012 @ 12:58 am

    The OED's senses 45 and 46 fit the bill. (I consulted the Compact edition published in 1971.)

  32. Ben Hemmens said,

    January 23, 2012 @ 7:39 am

    As I remember it, the dog I had in my youth (alas, I have lived ever since in unsuitable circumstances for dog-owning) did roll on fresh grass, and indeed also on a carpet – in order to scratch his back; he used to be itchy in places he couldn't get at with his paws.

    Happiness, though, was a well decomposed seagull on the beach. He never understood why this led to days of banishment from the clean parts of the house.

  33. Rodger C said,

    January 23, 2012 @ 8:18 am

    When I was a boy there was still an antique patent medicine (basically a mild laxative) called Black Draught, advertised on rural-oriented shows. It was always advertised as "Black Draft, also known as Black Drawt."

  34. Dan T. said,

    January 23, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

    @Bob Ladd: And both "check" and "draft" can be used in similar senses to refer to a financial document ordering the payment of funds from one account to another.

  35. Xmun said,

    January 23, 2012 @ 1:58 pm

    Matthew 15:17 in Spanish in the "Antigua versión de Casiodoro de Reina (1569)", in the revision of 1960, reads: "¿No entendéis que todo lo que entra en la boca va al vientre, y es echada en la letrina?" No prissiness there.

  36. Keith said,

    January 23, 2012 @ 3:51 pm

    I never found "draft" for military service to be strange; names are drawn from a pool of those of age.

    Contracts are still "drawn up" in England.

    One meaning I did not spot in this post, is that of the draught of a boat.


  37. Languages love meaning like a dog loves to grip a Frisbee in her teeth | Language Mystic said,

    January 23, 2012 @ 6:29 pm

    […] writes: [H]umans who love to explore etymology are like dogs avidly smelling the crap that other dogs have […]

  38. Joe Perez said,

    January 23, 2012 @ 7:35 pm

    I offered an alternative view from an evolutionary perspective here, concluding "Languages love multiple meanings like a dog loves to grip a Frisbee in her teeth":


  39. Mark F. said,

    January 23, 2012 @ 10:48 pm

    Keith – You can draw up a contract in the US, too. It's only when you take away the "up" that it sounds odd to me. For instance, the example of "this contract is not well-drawn" sounds a little foreign.

  40. Ima Lemming said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 3:20 am

    Along with the rolling dogs, I recall seeing horses rolling in dust and dirt, and my cat rolling in (and rubbing against) bits and pieces of Catnip.

    My Grandfather told me that horses do this to adhere dirt/dust to their skin to discourage flies. (Reminds me of Elephants "dusting" themselves.)

    As for the cat… ?

  41. Rodger C said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 8:30 am

    When I was drafted I certainly felt I was being dragged off.

  42. Terry Collmann said,

    January 24, 2012 @ 9:08 am

    The Ridger: you may never have heard of "bascule" but you've seen a bascule bridge in pictures: Tower Bridge in London is one.

    JW Brewer – I'd be astonished if Ray Davies pronounces "draught" with the vowel of "caught": as a good North Londoner he'd use the vowel for "father".

  43. Private Zydeco said,

    January 26, 2012 @ 5:55 am

    "Draw one; draw two; get that Coffee Perkin' "
    — Boogie Woogie Blue Plate, by Louis Jordan,

  44. Xmun said,

    January 26, 2012 @ 8:35 am

    I quoted (above, January 23, 2012 @ 1:58 pm) Matthew 15:17 in Spanish as follows: "¿No entendéis que todo lo que entra en la boca va al vientre, y es echada en la letrina?" Please forgive my failure to proofread properly. Of course "echada" ought to be "echado".

RSS feed for comments on this post