Ambiguity, ambiguity

Two cartoons today turning on ambiguities: a One Big Happy in which Ruthie confronts two ways in which someone can be said to keep books; and a Calvin and Hobbes in which Calvin does something similar with ways in which a writer can have a block:



Bookkeeper ‘someone who keeps books’. The business idiom keep books ‘to keep records of money that is gained or spent’ gives rise to specialized senses of bookkeeping and bookkeeper (the latter is the sense that Carol uses in #1). But then there’s the keep books with the root sense of keep ‘have or retain possession of’, which is the interpretation that Ruthie discerns in #1, so that she’s alarmed at the idea that some people are bookkeepers, keeping library books without returning them.

Writer’s block. This one is more complex, since Calvin is playing deliberately with two senses. One is, again, a specialized idiomatic sense, having to do with a figurative blockage in creative mental work. From Wikipedia:

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years.

But then there’s a literal sense, ‘a block belonging to a writer, a block for a writer’, with a root sense of block: ‘a large solid piece of hard material, especially rock, stone, or wood, typically with flat surfaces on each side’ (NOAD2).

So for Calvin: ‘a (literal) block for a writer that induces (idiomatic) writer’s block’.


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