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#19941 02/22/01 08:35 PM
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Is there a word for a word which has only one meaning/use? It would be analogous to a prime number, i.e., indivisible. "Table" has several meanings. "Barometer" has its original meaning, and a figurative meaning as a gauge of anything. "Staple" has several meanings, whereas "stapler" may have only one.


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well, there are certainly adjectives which cover the concept. a word can be monosemous (as opposed to polysemous) or it can be univocal (as opposed to equivocal); come to think of it, I believe univocal is also used as a noun....

...I see the noun form of the former is monosemy, having a single meaning (absence of ambiguity) usually of individual words or phrases [dictionary.com]


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Someone would have to make a pretty strong case to convince me that any word didn't at least have the potential for multiple meanings in a language with such power for metaphor. You can assign levels of meaning to pretty much anything...


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a(?)


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oh dear... there are many words which only have one meaning, for which you would have to work pretty hard to exploit this potential. off the top of my head, all of those -phobia words that relate to the fear of something specific (claustrophobia, homophobia, ailurophobia, triskaidekaphobia, etc.); -ology words which apply to sciences or studies of specific things (geology, ontology, vexillology [flags], pogonology [beards], pesematology [falling objects], etc.); descriptive words that have been coined to fill specific perceived gaps in the language (loghorrea, swoophead, yesternight, etc.) -- the list could get pretty long.


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Just to throw a stone into the self-referential pond:
monosemous itself should be the prime example of a monosemous word, because otherwise...


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Tsuwm, somewhere back in the mists of AWADtalk, there was a post about either: a word that describes words with one meaning, yet has more than one meaning of its own, OR, a word that describes words with several meanings, but only has one of its own. And I think that post was by you. But I can't remember the word. It wasn't monosemous or monosemy; I just did a search on those. Help?

Now--wsieber, I appreciated your oh-so-subtle parallel in using prime (think numbers) in reference to monosemous. Brilliant!


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well, as a matter of fact, the word was polysemous -- these are the terms used by linguists and lexicographers.
-joe friday

btw, I found this by searching on a phrase... the solution is left as an exercise for the student. (I've pencilled the answer in the margin, if you catch my meaning ;)


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I would be inclined to agree with tsuwm. I can think of plenty of technical terms having only one meaning, but I don't think that was quite what you were looking for. That kind of seems like cheating. I would be interested to find out how many "commonly used words" there are with only one meaning.


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Me ?
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