Oh, that odd English language, again. States of the word state.

The English Language 

In the English language, state is an odd word.  Just look at this list of phrases:

  • In what state do you live?
  • He was in a depressed state of mind.
  • Do you know a Head of State?
  • Can you state your case succinctly?
  • In chemistry class, you will learn that water has many states.

Gas, Liquid, Solid,

  • The criminal crossed state lines.

What does the dictionary say?

If you look up the word state on Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, what you will find are more examples like those listed above.  The word State can be used as a noun or a verb. This fact often confuses things for new english language learners whether they are native speakers of the language, young children just learning the language, or english as a second language individuals.  You can check out the examples from Merriam-Webster, here.

I do not know if this confusion of definition, clarified by context, and usage, is lexical ambiguity or not. A hunch says it is.  When investigating the meaning of lexical ambiguity I found this:

Favorite Early Chapter Books

This takes me back to reading with my sons. It is a time I definitely miss. We’d cuddle up before bedtime and read a “chapter book” together. Before lengthy chapter books, like the Harry Potter series, there were short, chapter books. An example that includes a great deal of lexical ambiguity is the Amelia Bedelia series of books.
Although what makes these books funny is the main character’s literal interpretation of what she is told to do by her employer, there is also a great deal of ambiguity, as well. The first Amelia Bedelia book was published in 1963, authored by Peggy Parish. In 2013, there was a 50th anniversary edition sold. That copy can be found now on Amazon.
Whether it was putting a stake in the ground or a steak on the grill, searching for a fork in the road, or any other number of ambiguities, Amelia Bedelia chapter books will make one laugh, IF one understands what pun is intended. And, if not, this provides a great opportunity to discuss our very odd English language.
Believe it or not when I was double checking the spelling of Bedelia, I came across an article in The New Yorker about Amelia Bedelia. It is worth the read, and so are the books (at least the old ones are worth a snuggle for a half hour before bed). Here is the link: The Secret Rebellion of Amelia Bedelia by Sarah Blackwood.  Blackwood captures the wordplay in the stories with great efficiency and example. Check it out, just as you would any book.
Today is Slice of Life Tuesday. Thank you to TwoWritingTeachers.org blog for hosting a supportive forum where we can share our writing and receive feedback from other educators and/or lovers of the written word.



4 thoughts

  1. Your post reminded me of my ESOL teaching days when many funny things happened with English language learners. Thank you for teaching me the term lexical ambiguity and for the link to the article. Language study is fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Had never thought of that regarding the word “state”! Quite funny! The other day I (being Swedish) realized something similarly weird in the Swedish language. The words fungus (even the kind that can be diseases), sponge and mushroom are all the same word: svamp. “Where’s the shower mushroom?” or “What kind of sponge do you like eating most?”. XD

    Liked by 1 person

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