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Losing My Mind

I was watching BBC television the other day, and I was struck by how versatile that little word ďmindĒ is. The lady called out to her son, ďmind how you go!Ē and I realized that Americans donít use that expression to tell someone to be careful. Then I started thinking that the word was a chameleon, like the word ďlikeĒ that I discussed a few blogs ago to great popular acclaim (over 1200 hits in the first three days).

 

Letís have a little look at the word ďmind.Ē There are two basic forms: one that is a noun and has to do with paying attention or memory, and the other that is a verb (both transitive and intransitive) and has to do with paying attention or memory. Hmm. That doesnít sound very distinguishing. Iíd better trot out the dictionary and some examples.

 

Noun:

  1. Recollection: keep it in mind.
  2. The active mental activity of an organism: wrap your mind around it.
  3. Intention or desire: change your mind.
  4. The healthy condition of mental facilities: your mind is sharp today.
  5. Opinion: of a like mind
  6. Disposition or mood: quick mind.
  7. A person or group embodiment of opinion: public mind
  8. (Obscure) From Christian Science: God
  9. (Obscure) A conscious substratum or factor in the universe:(Um, sorry. I canít think of an example here.)

Transitive Verb:

  1. Remind (chiefly dialectical): Mind him to bring a sweater.
  2. Remember (chiefly dialectical): Mind the good old days.
  3. Attend closely: mind how you go.
  4. To make aware of or notice: I wasnít sorry, mind you.
  5. To give heed attentively in order to obey: if youíre firm, the dog will mind you.
  6. To be concerned about: I donít mind the rain.
  7. To be careful: mind you donít trip on the stairs.
  8. To give protective care to: mind the dog while Iím out, will you?

Intransitive Verb:

  1. To be attentive or wary: mind the rickety step.
  2. To become concerned: mind the stormy clouds and bring an umbrella.
  3. To pay obedient attention: a good dog will mind the masterís commands.

I donít know about you, but these seem like variations on fewer themes than the dictionary would have us count. To me, there seem to be just four ďbucketsĒ of definition:

 

Iím not including the obscure or dialectical options, because Iíve simply never heard or read them, so I donít think theyíre common. If you like, you can make a fifth bucket and toss in those lesser known options.

 

Twenty years ago, I tutored three Chinese ladies in the complexities of American English. All of them had a pretty good grasp of the basics, but when it came to synonyms and homonyms, they really struggled. I remember spending a whole hour with them and the dictionary looking at the word ďmine.Ē They had watched a news program about land mines, listened to their husbands talking about data mining, saw a magazine article for a new sort of business that was a gold mine, and heard their children each insist that some toy was mine. How on earth, they wanted to know, did a listener discern which meaning was which?

 

First, you have to firmly clasp all these variants to your bosom, ready to dispense them at a momentís notice. As a native English speaker, this isnít too hard, as by the time weíre adults, most of us have heard (or used) quite a few such words. Itís simply a matter of screening for suitable meaning. But what if your personal catalog of homonyms consists solely of the two Iíve covered in my blog thus far (like and mind)?

 

If thatís the case, youíre in trouble. English is full of words that sound or look the same and have different meanings. Itís probably because English is an amalgam of so many other languages (German, French, and Latin at the forefront) and theyíve been blended mercilessly. The only thing I can tell you is to keep your dictionary handy and read all the definitions for every word you look up.

 

I wondered if thereís a list of homonyms (words that look and sound the same) somewhere. A list of commonly used homonyms would make a useful tool, like a thesaurus, for writers and non-native English speakers. I found a few useful sites online, although there were more homophones listed than homonyms. Homophones sound the same but arenít spelled the same (ade, aide, aid, there, theyíre, their), homographs are spelled the same but arenít necessarily pronounced the same (getting your just desert, Sahara desert, Polish nation, polish the furniture), and homonyms sound and look the same (such as mean, mine, mind, and like). Hereís what I found in a Google search on ďhomonym:Ē

 

Alan Cooperís Homonym List: A collection of words that sound the same (homophones), but donít necessarily look the same (heterographs) with brief definitions. http://www.cooper.com/alan/homonym_list.html

 

Commonly Misused Words and Phrases: A collection of homophones and homographs with brief definitions. http://wsuonline.weber.edu/wrh/words.htm

 

Taupecat Consulting: A list of homophones without definitions. http://www.taupecat.com/personal/homophones/

 

The rest of the Google results seem to be quizzes for students and teachers, which are usefulómaybe even more useful than a bald list because they provide contextóand definitions in dictionary and encyclopedia listings.