I do not think that word means what you think it means

Burt's Eye View

I make my living building pictures with words. It’s an inexact science.

Remember how in beginning wood shop you built a spice rack and someone said, “Oh, what a cute duck”? (There’s a reason I am not a carpenter.)

Words can slap you with the same kind of disastrous results — especially if you’re married. Many times, I think I am building a compliment. I end up on the couch.

“I love how you don’t care what you look like” would have been a nice thing had I said it to the guys. It is not when you say the same exact words to your spouse, who spent an hour or two picking out something special to wear for your night out.

Also, you no longer are going to have a night out.

Other compliments to avoid include, “Your new hairstyle makes you look so much younger” and “You look so pretty with makeup on.” Apparently, those sentences actually mean, “Hey, you’re old and ugly.”

Who knew?

As the great philosopher Barry Gibb wrote, “It’s only words and words are all I have to take your heart away.” But I meant away WITH me, not FROM me. Clarity counts.

To complicate the issue, words can muck up matters on their own without any help from me.

Bass — pronounced one way, it’s a fish. Pronounced another, it’s a stringed instrument that plays the low notes.

A bow can be the front of a ship or what you tie a ribbon into on a present.

And a present can be a gift, a period of time or to award formally — Presently, I shall present the present.

No wonder the great philosopher Inigo Montoya once said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Not even the words themselves know what they mean.

But I shall keep trying to figure out what the words I thought I knew really mean. To that end, I consulted “The Cynic’s Dictionary,” by Aubrey Dillon-Malone. The tome is chock full of definitions from the great philosophers of the ages.

Here are a few delicious examples:

Budget — “A mathematical confirmation of your worst suspicions.” — A.A. Latimer

Brain — “An organ that starts working the moment you wake up, and doesn’t stop until you get to the office.” — Robert Frost.

Door — “What the dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.” — Ogden Nash

Impatience — “Waiting in a hurry.” — Sarah Pollard

Income Tax — “The hardest thing in the world to understand.” — Albert Einstein

Love — “Insanity with a collaborator.” — Gene Perret

Pain — “Nature’s way of getting back.” — Audrey Austin

Resentment — “Resting on one’s quarrels.” — Vida Shiffrer

Specialist — “A man who knows more and more about less and less.” — William James Mayo

Wife — “A woman who tries to turn an old rake into a lawn mower.” — Jack Benny

Zeal — “A nervous disorder afflicting the young and inexperienced.” — Ambrose Bierce

Conclusion — “What you reach when you get tired of thinking.” — Martin Fischer

I hope the words mean what you thought they meant.

— Catch up with Cole’s musings by clicking the “Life” tab at www.tribto day.com, or visiting the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or @BurtonW Cole on Twitter. But be careful, they’re filled with words.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today