Words I Never Knew

In another essay, I called myself a word nerd, and now I’m realizing just how interesting a linguistic conundrum one can run into in certain circumstances. I was recently involved in the logistics of a move, the move of a small church from one location to another nearby. During this process, I had to facilitate some meetings so things didn’t fall through the cracks. And several of us found ourselves having to determine names for items and objects we didn’t usually talk about. I had never “named” some of these items before, and it was an interesting communication hash as we tried to find words so that other congregants would understand what we were talking about. In conversing, we found we weren’t all using the same terms, nor did we all know what all the terms meant. This endeavor and series of meetings brought up such terms as:

• Dais vs. podium – a raised platform upon which a lectern or pulpit sits. Some folks understood platform or stage more readily.

• Name badge holder – a homemade rack, not unlike a spice rack, where members’ name badges can be parked or stored during the week. Rack, cabinet, display rack were other terms used. Not to be confused with the plastic sleeve into which you slip the printed card stock with the typed name on it. Surely there must be a more formal, correct name.

• Panic bar – I had to think about this the first time I heard the term used. It is that squeezy, metal horizontal bar (about waist high) that one depresses or pushes, with hands or hips, that causes the door to open when one is going from inside to outside. I didn’t know it by that name – I would have said “that metal bar thing you push.” Not very precise.

• Banner vs. tapestry vs. wall hanging – the church has various items that hang on a wall, or exterior building surface, made of fabric or felt or oilcloth. One has grommets in it. It was interesting trying to distinguish one from the other just by the term used.

• Singing bowl – never heard this term before. I looked it up on the web and found out that it is used by the Buddhist monks in Tibet and dates back to the time of the Buddha. In Buddhist practice, singing bowls are used as a support for meditation, trance induction and prayer. They emit a tone that facilitates the meditative state. Who knew? I have been practicing Transcendental Meditation for forty years and I never used a singing bowl. I made do with just a mantra. How embarrassing. I find I am more ignorant than I realized. What with Richard Gere, Patrick Duffy and other notables practicing Buddhism, you’d think I might have picked up on that in People magazine. My bad.

• Allen wrench — this one I knew, learned from my father when I was a child. This is a special “L” shaped six-sided wrench that comes in various sizes, the way screwdrivers do. It fits into a recessed hexagonal socket hole in the end of an Allen bolt (which is sort of like a screw). I’ve also heard it referred to as a hex wrench, a hex key, or an Allen key. Take your pick. Any of those terms are more desirable than “that little L shaped thingy” or “that little tool” (don’t go there – you might seriously embarrass yourself). Allen bolts and Allen wrenches are used in place of screws and screwdrivers in the assembly of some items, primarily to confuse women.

• Flooring – with such terms as vinyl tiles, vinyl sheeting, carpet, carpet squares, carpet tiles and the like floating around, it was much better having a sample to hold up and be able to say “it looks like this.” I thought I had learned a lot of words from my addiction to HGTV. Once again, I realized how much I didn’t know about the world of floor coverings. Perhaps I should just walk through Home Depot some day when I have nothing better to do, and educate myself.

• Footprint – in the course of dealing with contractors and their go-betweens, this term came up related to the space being occupied. A footprint is the entire area of ground surface covered by the structure; or within designated walls. In other words the entire square footage being rented, leased, or purchased.

It is a humbling experience for a word nerd not to be familiar with every one of these terms. It just illustrates how even an “educated person” can be reduced to a novice in mere seconds. It is a reminder to smug people (and church Presidents) not to get too big a head.