I love a good monosyllable

A picture that I took in a locksmith shop that I happened to wander into the other day. Incidentally, a recent poll revealed a broad consensus that the most difficult French word for Americans to pronounce is "locksmith shop:" serrurerie.
A picture that I took in a locksmith shop that I happened to wander into the other day. Incidentally, a recent poll revealed a broad consensus that the most difficult French word for Americans to pronounce is “locksmith shop:” serrurerie.

Most of what you know about your native language, you already knew by the time you were a child. Phonology (sound patterns), syntax (sentence structure), the intricacies of things like plurals, possessives, when to use definite articles (e.g. “the”) versus indefinite articles (e.g. “a”)–if your language has them, you knew how to use them pretty early, and you don’t learn much more about these kinds of structural patterns in your language after childhood.  Remembering that you had problems pronouncing r or something until you were seven doesn’t change the fact that there is an astounding amount that you did know.

Your lexicon, or the set of words that you know, is different from all other components of your language in this respect.  You continue to learn new words, probably throughout your life. So, I’m never surprised to learn a new vocabulary item in my native language, even though I scored in the 99th percentile on the language section of the GRE (the test that you take when you apply to graduate programs)–Zipf’s Law applies to your native language just as much as it does to any language that you might try to learn later in life.

However, if your native language is English, it’s uncommon to come across a novel monosyllable (single-syllable word) late in life. I find it so exciting when I do that for years, I have written to my siblings whenever I learnt a new one. Thanks to the wonder of blogs, I can now share the wonder of an obscure English monosyllable with the world! One that I came across just the other day is “rose.” Yes, we all know this word, but I came across a new (to me) meaning for it the other day. Go look for a door handle. See the round thing at the base, where the handle goes into the mortise (also spelt mortice)–the hole that the handle goes into the door through. See the round thing at the base? That’s called a rose.

The rose window in the cathedral at Strasbourgh.  Source: “Rosace cathedrale strasbourg” by Clostridium – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rosace_cathedrale_strasbourg.jpg#/media/File:Rosace_cathedrale_strasbourg.jpg

The French word for this round thing at the base of your doorknob is rosace.  It’s an interesting word, because its meanings include “rose window”–the round stained glass window that you see on the east-facing window of a Gothic church.  What’s interesting (to me) about that is that now realize that I’ve been misinterpreting the word vitrail, which I thought was a rose window, but turns out to be a stained glass window or stained glass in general, but not necessarily a rose window.

  • le vitrail (plural vitraux) (IPA [vitʀaj]): stained glass; stained glass window.
  • la rosace: rose window.

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