Today's Paper Obits Newsletters Outdoors Crime Emergency landing made at XNA QBs to split snaps Razorback Sports Today's Photos Puzzles
story.lead_photo.caption A squid was photographed June 11 at 3,610 feet in the Gulf of Mexico by The Medusa apparatus launched by scientists aboard the Point Sur.

Today's strange but vaguely true item: Many pieces of furniture do double time as verbs or nouns.

Think about a table. We have a couple of tables around the house. The dinner table. The coffee table. The vegetable. Kidding!

We spend a fair amount of time at one table or another. After a raucous party, some may spend time under the table.

"Table" makes sense as an adjective, too.

Is that proper table talk, young lady?

I love your new table lamp.

Please pass the table salt.

Funny, we don't say "table pepper."

Then we have table as a verb, where it acts erratically.

Suppose you and your co-workers are in a meeting, going through an agenda. You get to an item that no one is ready to discuss. So you table the item, meaning you'll talk about it at a later meeting. You think to yourself, "I'm all for anything that will make this meeting shorter."

If meeting members instead decide to discuss the item, then you table it.

That has to be confusing. It means one thing and its opposite.

Joe: Let's table this item.

Will: Delay it or discuss it?

Joe: Table it.

Will: That's a big help.

Chair is another piece of furniture whose name gets around.

A chair is something we sit on. We have armchairs, folding chairs and rocking chairs. My favorite name is the occasional chair. This isn't a seat that is only sometimes a chair. It's a decorative chair used on special occasions, such as when the queen visits.

As a noun, "chair" also means the person in charge of a meeting or organization. As a verb, it means to lead a meeting. The Associated Press Stylebook recommends using chairwoman or chairman, specifying the gender. Many people like to use "chair" or "chairperson" because those words are gender-neutral. AP says to use one of those only when it's the organization's official title.

I prefer to use "chair" as a noun, not a verb.

And we have the couch. It's the big, hopefully comfortable piece you fall asleep on while watching TV, or hang out on with friends to eat appetizers and drink cocktails.

As a verb, "to couch" means to say something in a certain way. A review of a kids' TV show said it was "couched in whimsy." A headline for a story said, "A Campaign about Computer Security, Couched in Plain English." A 1921 story about limiting naval forces in the Pacific had a headline that said, "Reply to Disarmament Invitation Couched in Cordial Terms."

This piece of furniture is also called a "sofa." Other synonyms are settee, divan, chesterfield and davenport. I have heard none of these used as verbs.

And a dresser holds your clothes. It's also called a chest of drawers. (Some people mistakenly say "chester drawers.") A few terms are similar, including wardrobe or chifforobe. After the first time I saw To Kill a Mockingbird, I learned that a chifforobe also holds clothes, but half of it is a closet and half is drawers.

The dictionary says a dresser is also a person who dresses. That would seem like an unneeded word. Most people wear clothes, except those who live in nudist colonies. But sometimes you hear someone is "a snappy dresser."


A reader asked why she keeps hearing people say that things happen "on accident" instead of "by accident." Mignon Fogarty, also known as "Grammar Girl," researched this a couple of years back. She found a linguistics study that concluded that people under 35 more often said "on accident." People 40 and over say "by accident."

One theory is that younger people say "on accident" because it's a parallel phrasing with its near opposite, "on purpose." It's as if people older than 40 suddenly realize they've been saying it wrong. Maybe it's in the "Turning 40" manual. That study was written in 2005, so I assume we need to add 10 years to both ages mentioned. If you're 50 and still say "on accident," you'd better consult the manual.

I would like to write to the study's authors in a generation or so to ask them to update the information. Is it possible that the next generation will rebel and return to "by accident"?

Sources: Merriam-Webster, American Heritage Dictionary, Quick and Dirty Tips, Associated Press Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style, The New York Times, Encyclopedia Britannica


Photo by NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research/DANTE FENOLIO
Scientists aboard the research vessel Point Sur watch the giant squid video they recorded (from left) Nathan Robinson, Sonke Johnsen, Tracey Sutton, Nick Allen, Edie Widder, and Megan McCall.
Photo by NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
Capt. Nick Allen recovers the Medusa camera apparatus at night June 21 aboard the re- search vessel Point Sur in the Gulf of Mexico.

ActiveStyle on 07/01/2019

Print Headline: Furnishing sentences with words

Sponsor Content