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Dealing with words that have more than 5 meanings

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Dealing with words that have more than 5 meanings

Postby Quis ut Deus » Fri Oct 22, 2010 9:15 pm

What's the best way to handle some of the words which have a lot of meanings:

Example (From Collins Latin Concise Dictionary):

constituo--

to put, place, set down

(mil) to station, post, halt

to establish, build, create

to settle, to arrange, organize

to appoint, determine, fix

to resolve, decide

"Constituo" is that not bad, because I just try to imagine a stake being driven into the ground, but what about this one:

solvo, -vere, -vi -utum

undo

to free; release, acquit, exempt

to dissolve, break up, separate

to relax, slacken, weaken

to cancel, remove, destroy;

to solve, explain

to pay, fulfill

to refute an argument

to undermine (in discipline)

to get rid of (feelings)

to let down (hair)

to open a letter

to dismiss troops

solvo navem--to set sail

How do you all deal with with words such as "solvo?" Do you try to remember each and every meaning, or are the first couple of meanings listed in the definition entry pretty much the most used ones?
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Re: Dealing with words that have more than 5 meanings

Postby furrykef » Fri Oct 22, 2010 11:55 pm

I don't learn words in isolation like that. I just wait until I come across the word and learn its meaning in that context.
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Re: Dealing with words that have more than 5 meanings

Postby Craig_Thomas » Sat Oct 23, 2010 12:36 am

The multitude of meanings presented in a dictionary entry can usually be understood as variations of a single idea, or a few ideas.

With "solvo", you need only remember it as meaning "untie, release", or something like that. The various other definitions listed are (or can be) all tied to this simple idea:

1. undo -- to untie
2. to free; release, acquit, exempt -- to release; to untie fetters
3. to dissolve, break up, separate -- to release something is to separate it from something else; to dissolve is to untie it in some sense
4. to relax, slacken, weaken -- to slacken ropes is to untie them (take "relax" and "weaken" as figurative extensions of this)
5. to cancel, remove, destroy; -- "remove" expresses separation, as in [3] above; to destroy something is to dissolve it
6. to solve, explain -- to solve is to untie a difficult knot; to explain something is perhaps to "untie" it, so that your audience can see its every strand
7. to pay, fulfill -- to release oneself from some financial or business obligation
8. to refute an argument -- to "untie" an argument (in English an argument may be "dismantled" or "taken apart")
9. to undermine (in discipline) -- ties back to [4] above: to weaken > to slacken > to untie
10. to get rid of (feelings) -- to release oneself from feelings (separation, again)
11. to let down (hair) -- to untie hair
12. to open a letter -- to untie tablets, perhaps (we can't imagine an envelope here!)
13. to dismiss troops -- to release troops from some military obligation, or from oneself
14. solvo navem--to set sail -- to release ship, untie it from its moorings
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Re: Dealing with words that have more than 5 meanings

Postby thesaurus » Sat Oct 23, 2010 11:41 pm

furrykef wrote:I don't learn words in isolation like that. I just wait until I come across the word and learn its meaning in that context.


This is the sensible approach. As long as you have an understanding of the basic meaning of the word (usually the first entry in a dictionary), you should study how it's used in whatever context you find it. A good dictionary will provide examples of different kinds of usage. Some will be logical extensions of the basic meaning; others could be highly metaphorical or technical (such as are often found in legal contexts). It's just too overwhelming and confusing to try to learn all of the different usages of a common word.

If you were learning English, you wouldn't want to learn every possible usage of a common word like "so." Rather, you'd want to learn how it's used in a particular construction, and then you could add other meanings as you encountered them.
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Re: Dealing with words that have more than 5 meanings

Postby Quis ut Deus » Mon Oct 25, 2010 6:27 pm

@Furry and Thesaurus,

Thanks for the perspective. Maybe I was looking into a word too in-depth as I came across it!

@Craig_Thomas

Thanks for a lot for your perspective as well. It definitely does help to consolidate all the different meanings into one idea, when possible. Your example really helped, thanks.
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Re: Dealing with words that have more than 5 meanings

Postby hippopotamos » Fri Oct 29, 2010 7:36 pm

also - a good base meaning for consituo is "decide" or "set down"
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Re: Dealing with words that have more than 5 meanings

Postby ptolemyauletes » Wed Nov 03, 2010 2:04 pm

Vocabulary in Latin is no different than any other language. Words can have a variety of different meanings depending on context. The worst offenders in English are prepositions, which baffle and befuddle those new to the language. Consider 'off'. One turns a light off, deactivating it, but a fire alarm is activated when it goes off. Presumably one can go back into the house when the fire alarm goes on, but no, we have to wait for it to turn off, or stop. Worse still, one can trip an alarm, despite having never stuck out one's leg to impede its forward progress.

The Latin verbs 'ago' and 'gero' are no doubt two of the worst in Latin when it comes to numbers of meanings, but the important thing is to consider the noun it is combined with. Verbs have different meanings when combined with different nouns. The best thing to do may be, as suggested, to learn the combinations as phrases. Alternatively, and perhaps ultimately more useful, one can learn a basic meaning for these verbs, then use your own instinct and knowledge of English to compose a more idiomatic English expression of the idea presented. Remember, 'ago' means 'ago'. It is a Latin word, and we are trying to express the idea it presents in English.

If one thinks of 'gero' in two contexts, 'gerere bellum' and 'gerere vestimenta', we can translate the first as 'to wage war', but no one 'wages clothes'. Clearly we wear clothes. If you assign a basic meaning to 'gero' of something like 'to manage', or 'to conduct' then one can readily progress to a reasonable meaning of 'wearing clothes'.
Likewise with 'ago'. If we assign a basic meaning of 'doing' then we can readily translate 'agere currum' as to drive a chariot, and 'agere gratias' as to give thanks.
Craig Thomas' posting here on 'solvo' is another great example of how a basic meaning is useful.
Just as many words in English have a variety of meanings so too do Latin words, many of which can seem opposed to each other. This method is quite useful for fixing the meaning of these words, but it is not infallible, and will not work for every circumstance.
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Re: Dealing with words that have more than 5 meanings

Postby TonyLoco23 » Mon Dec 06, 2010 10:15 pm

The hardest ones are those connected with the verb 'ferre'. I.e. deferre, conferre, referre, adferre, afferre, abferre, proferre, obferre.

Each one of those verbs has at least 5 seperate meanings, and many of them have up to 20.
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