A hand painted sign beside a country road advertises “MOILE HOME FOR SALE.” Catch it from the other direction, and you’ll find it’s a “MOBILE HOME” available for purchase. Each time I see it, I am freshly baffled by the omission of the “B.” I mean, in “MOBILE,” it strikes me as an unforgettable letter.
The Second Edition of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged — in two volumes copyright 1962 and purchased for a dollar in our library book sale room — informs me that “moil” without the “e” can be a verb meaning to daub or make dirty, to weary or fatigue, or to labor, toil, work with painful efforts, to drudge. Additionally, as a noun, it may mean drudgery, confusion [turmoil], a spot or defilement, OR mining tool used in lieu of a pick and worked like a crowbar to make accurate cuttings. There’s also the obsolete noun version meaning “mule.”
This “mule” apparently comes from the French mule or slipper, so that “moile” in a google search turns up “a kind of high shoe worn in ancient times.”
Returning to the sign, is perhaps the “moile home” like that which belonged to the old-woman-who-lived-in-a-shoe-who-had-so-many-children-she-didn’t-know-what-to-do?
After all, I suppose a shoe is simply another sort of mobile home, isn’t it?
On a different road, a church sign admonishes me to “give thank to the Lord.” I thought the absent “S” was an accident until I saw the same admonition to give the Lord one thank on the other side of the sign. There were no “S”s anywhere on the message, and I found myself wondering whether someone had stolen the church’s supply of “S”s.
Why, though, do we “thank” and in our thanking always “give thanks“? I suppose it must be short-speak for “thanksgiving,” but still: why is there no “thank-giving”?
Toward God, it seems obvious. There’s never a time when He is not deserving uncountable thanks from us. He doesn’t deserve just one “thank.” We owe Him not less than everything. To give Him a “thank” is like paying a penny on a multi-trillion dollar debt. Though, of course, no amount of thanks from us can ever, EVER pay Him for all His benefits, nor even — since thanks are only ever acknowledgements — could we ever manage to acknowledge all He does for us.
I’m learning to backtrack through a mental thesaurus, following the tracks of English language learners’ odd constructions. It raises questions for me, too, as I try to explain why “observing a fast” is not the same thing as “watching a fast,” or why “material relations” and “physical relations” are not synonymous.
Learning to articulate the differences sharpens my own understanding of my language. How “watching” must always involve our powers of vision. How we can draw the same contrast between physical and spiritual as we do between material and spiritual, but physical can have to do with bodies when material does not.
And so I am freshly delighted with this world of words which we inhabit, willing or no. Freshly astonished at our God who created by His words, who said “Let there be light,” and there was light.
Synonyms are not synonymous, and single letters included or omitted open thoroughfares down which meanings pour, eager for reception. We are moiled in meanings at times, while other times a word can become a moil with which to carefully chip one precise meaning from the surrounding stones.
I watch and I observe all this: the words which are so much more than their materials in sound and symbol. I think of how the Word was in the beginning with God and how all things were made through Him, and I think of how God’s word lives and acts, exceeding a sword in sharpness to divide soul and spirit, joints and marrow, to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
I think of how words are gifts.
For this, O give thanks to the Lord. Thank Him continually, with uncountable thanks.
©2014 by Stacy Nott