The many meanings of “hot” and other short words

I was ordering one of those new chicken-and-salad McWraps today, and I asked if the chicken were hot. I had to clarify I meant “hot as in temperature,” not “hot as in spicy.” It got me to thinking about how many meanings there are to the word hot:

  1. High-temperature
  2. Spicy
  3. Stolen
  4. Sexy
  5. Turned on (both sexually and, in the case of a microphone, electronically)
  6. Bright, neon color (like hot pink)
  7. Currently popular (like products that “are really hot right now” or a “hot topic”)
  8. Angry

Thinking about the many meanings of hot (or the “polysemy” of hot, if you will) got me to thinking about other words that are polysemic. Those that came to mind were all one-syllable words: on, cold, run, pan, out… It makes me wonder if it is natural for people to glom onto one-syllable words and load them with meanings so they can use them a lot. After all, it is quicker to use monosyllabic words; they have a punch to them (punch itself being both monosyllabic and polysemous). Polysyllabic words, like extemporaneous and entomological, don’t tend to be polysemic. I Googled “polysemous monosyllabic words” just now to see if linguists have recognized and written about this tendency in language, and I found this:

Because of the well known association between frequency and polysemy on the one hand and frequency and shortness on the other, polysemy should also be a frequent phenomenon in monosyllabic words. (Fenk-Oczlon & Fenk, 2008, p. 59)

So there. I’m not the only one who’s ever noticed this. 🙂

How about you? Have you noticed this phenomenon?


Fenk-Oczlon, G. & Fenk, A. (2008). Complexity trade-offs between the subsystems of language. In M. Miestamo, K. Sinnemäki, & F. Karlsson (Eds.) Language complexity: Typology, contact, change, pp. 43-65. Amsterdam, NL: John Benjamins Publishing Co.


Exploding our models to get a better view of our work

I’m not talking about blowing up runway models with dynamite; I’m talking about looking at our work like a 3-D model— stretching it out and viewing its constituent parts from all angles to see how they work together. In the interpreting profession, we talk about “models” of interpretation like helper, conduit, ally, etc. We may have seen some flat diagrams of these models, so maybe we’re used to thinking of models as two-dimensional. How can we bring these models to life and apply them to our work? If you’re like me, you need a picture, or better yet, a moving picture. This video shows the way I like to think of modeling our work. Think of this next time you get supervision or case conference, next time you analyze your work within the Demand-Control Schema. Think of this video and see if you are really taking the time to stretch out the scenario and look at all the parts that make it tick.


Hangout On Air tomorrow, Deaf-Blind party today, and master’s degree update

Hosting Hangout on Air this weekend

You can tune in to a Google+ Hangout On Air tomorrow evening, May 13, at 6:30 PDT (UTC-7) co-hosted by me and Booger Bender. The topic is ASL and Deaf culture. The idea was M Monica‘s, and I have Naomi Black to thank for recommending me. Google enabled Hangout On Air hosting to Google+ members worldwide this week, so I look forward to hosting more HOA’s in the future. Posted here is a video about the new medium. Look forward to our HOA being posted live and for perpetuity on this blog, Google+, and YouTube. (more…)

Fascinating post! I love it when interpreters & translators take charge* appropriately. I know in the ASL-English interpreting world, our Deaf consumers usually do no like it (to put it mildly) when Hearing interpreters “take control.” They see it as paternalistic, disempowering, and arrogant. However, there are times when it is foolish to do nothing, say nothing– especially when you are only dealing with human clients on one side of the language divide! I’m sure the documents weren’t offended that you told the American attorneys it was a waste of your time to translate them. You saved them a lot of time and money. I have saved people time and money by telling them a situation did not need two interpreters. I am an advocate of team interpreting, and I cannot work alone for more than 20 or 30 minutes of continuous speech, but when it’s really sporadic, I don’t need a team. To be fair, I would discuss this with the other interpreter to see which one of us feels they need the job. If they would have kept quiet about the surplus of interpreters, and I have reason to believe I will get work elsewhere, I will offer to be the one to turn back the job (I’m talking about repeating or continuous assignments).

Now, to your other issue: You didn’t just save them time and money; you used your knowledge to help them get what they wanted. This is a good ethical dilemma. I think most of us do this sometimes whether we know it or not, but occasionally it’s a decision we deliberate. I once interpreted a video relay call for an hour where the Deaf caller was trying to get some information specific to services to the Deaf, but no one she connected to or was transferred to was aware of the services they provide. I was well aware, because I had interpreted many calls to this company before. After a painful hour of keeping my knowledge to myself, I finally decided to do something. I said, “Excuse me for a moment,” in English, which made it sound like the Deaf caller had said it. I then suggested to the Deaf caller that they Google a specific string of search terms. They did, and they found what they had been looking for for an hour. I asked the Deaf person to please not tell the Hearing person I had told them. The Deaf person thanked me and understood my request, and simply said, “Don’t you people use Google to find information about your own company and help customers? I just Googled [such-and-such] and found it right away!” Luckily, in this case, the Deaf person felt no resentment at me for “taking control” because I really didn’t take control; I simply provided one client with information that would help them and not hurt the other client (after all, the Hearing client would get the Deaf client’s business if they just knew where to point the Deaf client). I was able to do this without saying to both parties, “Okay, hold on, people. I know the answer and this is what it is.” I have often wanted to do that as an interpreter, but I almost always bite my tongue / site on my hands. 😉

By the way, I armed myself with this tenet of the Code of Professional Conduct developed in cooperation between the National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf:


Tenet: Interpreters possess the professional skills and knowledge required for the specific interpreting situation.

Guiding Principle: Interpreters are expected to stay abreast of evolving language use and trends in the profession of interpreting as well as in the American Deaf community.

Illustrative behavior 2.6: Judiciously provide information or referral regarding available interpreting or community resources without infringing upon consumers’ rights.

I felt my behavior was ethical, especially since the information I provided was specific to “available interpreting or community resources” and I didn’t infringe on anyone’s rights.

* I looked up the word “charge” just now to see if I wanted to use it, and this is the operative definition I found: “the responsibility of taking care or control of someone or something” (American Heritage Dictionary in Mac OS X). And look at the word “responsibility.” Rather than looking at it as a “burden,” I like to remember that it is the ability to respond! Also, “charge” can mean power. Power is not a bad thing if used for good.

The Professional Interpreter

Dear Colleagues,

We all have clients who at one time or another have asked us to translate materials that we know, or learn after reviewing them, are useless or irrelevant for our client’s objective.

One time I was asked to translate a Mexican court file that was close to forty thousand words. The client needed the translation to avoid that a client be prosecuted for crimes not included in the extradition order issued by the requested party.  When I came on board to participate in the translation process, others had been involved for months (if not years) translating endless documents, international conventions, and case law. I must add that the American attorneys, although excellent and capable, were not very familiar with International Law.  Because of my background as an attorney, from the time I joined the team, I was able to notice the uselessness of translating a bunch of documents…

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Found more interpreting & translation blogs & associations

Loads of new links!

TerpTrans logoThe focus of TerpTrans is on interpreting, translation, and contact language transliteration of spoken and signed languages around the world. We share many things in common and can learn from each other whether we are Deaf or Hearing, interpreter or translator, oral or manual. To that end, here is a list of more links from signed-spoken and spoken-spoken interpreting & translation blogs: (more…)