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Feb 14, 2011
This week's theme
Polysemantic words

This week's words
fell
pip
parity
seadog
fluke

fell
Illustration: Rebekah Potter

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

According to recent research, longer words carry more information. It's obviously true for scientific terminology, for example names for chemical compounds in which those polysyllabic constructions try to describe all about the compounds. But is it true for words used in everyday human languages?

In general, the shorter the word, the more meanings it has, though in a given context usually only one of those meanings applies. This week we have selected five words, each of which has multiple, unrelated meanings.

And speaking of words carrying information, if the old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words is true, each of this week's words accompanies many more words. They are illustrated by artist Rebekah Potter (rebekah.l.potter gmail.com) in her heartwarming style.

fell

PRONUNCIATION:
(fel)

MEANING:
adjective:
1. Fierce; cruel; lethal.
2. In the idiom, in one fell swoop (all at once, as if by a blow).

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old French, variant of felon (wicked, a wicked person). Earliest documented use: Before 1300.

USAGE:
"So you spend most of the movie worried that Shepherd has some fell disease."
Mary McNamara; A Ham-fisted Dish; Los Angeles Times; May 19, 2003.

"In one fell swoop, most of the top politicians of this impoverished West African country surrendered themselves to the cadre of junior officers."
Jeffrey Gettleman; A Largely Welcomed Coup in Guinea; The New York Times; Dec 25, 2008.


MEANING:
verb tr.:
1. To knock down, strike, or cut down.
2. To sew a seam by folding one rough edge under the other, flat, on the wrong side, as in jeans.

noun:
1. The amount of timber cut.
2. In sewing, a felled seam.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English fellan/fyllan (to fall). Earliest documented use: Around 1000.

USAGE:
"The government has granted sanction to fell a tree to facilitate new construction."
No Move to Lift Construction Ban in Green Belt; The Indian Express (New Delhi); Oct 13, 2010.

"I suppose that good-quality cloth and thread, rivets, and felled seams have something to do with it."
Andrew Bevan and David Wengrow; Cultures of Commodity Branding; Left Coast Press; 2010.


MEANING:
noun: A stretch of open country in the highlands.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old Norse fjall/fell (hill). Earliest documented use: Before 1300.

USAGE:
"After a day spent tramping across the snowy fells of the Lake District National Park, a period of R and R is most definitely required."
James White; Hotel Review; Daily Mail (London, UK); Jan 19, 2011.


MEANING:
noun: The skin or hide of an animal.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Old English fel/fell (skin or hide). Ultimately from the Indo-European root pel- (skin or hide), which also gave us pelt, pillion, and film. Earliest documented use: Around 1000.

USAGE:
"Felt bearing pads are made from non-tanned fell."
A.S.G. Bruggeling and G.F. Huyghe; Prefabrication with Concrete; Taylor & Francis; 1991.


See more usage examples of fell in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
Animals have these advantages over man: they never hear the clock strike, they die without any idea of death, they have no theologians to instruct them, their last moments are not disturbed by unwelcome and unpleasant ceremonies, their funerals cost them nothing, and no one starts lawsuits over their wills. -Voltaire, philosopher and writer (1694-1778)

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