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Rusty Saber

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by Joe McAdoo

From time to time, the Rusty Saber looks at meanings of words. Sometimes meanings can be pretty illogical.

Take famous and infamous, for instance. Generally, they have opposite meanings. Famous means having fame; infamous means having ill fame. These meanings I understand.

I understand capable and incapable; they, too, have opposite meanings (you can do something or you can't). No problem here. But wait, there's valuable and invaluable; unlike the two examples above, they have the same meaning, which makes no sense. Either one is enough to describe value, why are both in the language?

How about amend and emend? Generally, they share the same meaning (changing something), but are spelled differently. And there's siren, two separate meanings (a legendary female who lured sailors to destruction and an alarm signal); same spelling.

Speaking of illogical meanings, think about hospital (a place to go when sick) and hospitable (a friendly manner). Meanings aren't always easy to get a handle on.

If meanings of single words are so hard to come by, imagine what happens when words are put together into phrases. As a public service, the Rusty Saber presents the following dictionary of actual meanings of certain often used phrases.

?Limited Warranty: Anything that might go wrong with this product during the warranty period will not be covered by the warranty. Count on it.

?Offer Void Where Prohibited: The meaning is lost in some real double-speak.

You'd better believe it's void where it's prohibited, another way to say illegal. Otherwise, someone may go to jail. To understand the meaning you need to ask why the offer is prohibited in some places.

?Some Restrictions May Apply: Before saying yes to whatever it is that contains some restrictions, you should get a magnifying glass and carefully read the small print. Meaning: Find out what "restrictions" means, and how many restrictions constitute "some."

?Batteries Not Included: Several meanings apply. The manufacturer may know that the product will be on the shelf for so long that the batteries will be dead by the time it's sold, or it may be better for the cash flow if buyers pay for the batteries, rather than the maker.

Ask yourself if you would buy a new car if it were advertised "Tires Not Included." Another meaning is that you should not put a present for a child under the Christmas tree without first checking your battery supply. Otherwise, you will be shopping for batteries on Christmas Day.

?Some Assembly Required: This means a lot of assembly is required. In order

to determine how much assembly will

be required, look at the box it comes in. The less it looks like whatever it's supposed be, the more assembly will be required.

For instance, if it's a child's swing set, and it comes in a flat box, make no other plans on the day you assemble. Begin early and don't plan on sleeping that night. I'm sorry to say that "Some Assembly Required" translates into real-world word usage as "Degree from MIT Required."

?Low Water Bridge: This phrase has two very important differences in meaning, depending on the weather. In dry weather, it's what the name implies, low water. During heavy rains, it is a "High Water Bridge." It's really important to understand both meanings and weather conditions before driving across a low water bridge.

?Slippery When Wet: This means that whoever is responsible for the street or highway where this sign appears probably knows it was constructed of inferior materials that makes it slick when wet.

If it's raining and you see the sign, you don't have time to ask why materials were used that make it slippery when wet. Slow down! Ask questions later. The sign means what it says: The wet road is going to be slippery.

I hope this little dictionary of meanings has been helpful. Now if I could just figure out why we wear pants, and a dog pants, but a pantry is a place to store food ...

(Joe McAdoo is former chairman of the communication department at Drury College and a Springfield public relations consultant.)

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