Saturday, May 23, 2009

Head count

A word with a specific meaning can go through the process of broadening and become more general in meaning in many ways. Many words come to be used in a figurative sense, taking on more layers of meaning. The word ‘head’, for instance, has evolved a long way from its original German ‘haupt’ that meant ‘upper part of the body’.

Today, this word is used in so many ways that it may be an exercise in futility to tabulate all of them. This bunch of grapes needs a whole trellis to itself, so much has it grown, As stated earlier, a word begins to gather meanings just as a small node grows into a bunch of grapes.

As a noun, ‘head’ moves on from the ‘upper part of the body’ to the upper part of anything, a weapon, a vegetable or a machine. Head is also the person in charge of something, the governing word in a phrase, a person counted as a numerical unit, an animal counted numerically and a body of water kept at a certain height to supply water at a stable pressure. As an adjective, head is found in headline, head master and headwaiter. As a verb it can be used in the sense of leading something, to move in a particular direction or to give a title to something, as illustrated by these sentences: “He heads the organization” or “Where are you headed?” or “The article is headed Root”.. As an adjective, ‘head’ is used in more than 30 contexts.

The metaphors and phrases that add to this heady bunch of grapes are not small in number. You can bang your head against a brick wall if someone doesn’t understand what you are saying. And, banging people’s head together is not going to help. Rather, you will carry with you the constant threat of miscommunication made worse by unpleasantness hanging over your head. And this stress will make you bite someone’s head off! Even after putting our heads together, my team and I have not been able to get a head start on all the grapes in the ‘head’ bunch!