Folks who don’t claim English as their native tongue are often heard to express frustration when learning our language about the many words that have many meanings. Some words can be a verb, noun or adjective. They can be defined by context, mood or regional dialect. Perhaps even more confusing, they can be demarcated in several mutually exclusive ways. The word “medium,” for example, is known to be both a unit of measure, a material and a person. It can be the size of drink between a small and a large – although I must admit that one rarely sees a small option on the menu at any American restaurant. We tend to stick with large and EXTRA large. Also, the word medium may be used as an expression of the material used in the construction of art. A mixed-medium piece would be constituted of several different substances used collectively to make the whole. And, don’t forget that a medium might be a person (one who fills the space between the spirit world, if we believe in these kinds of things, and our corporeal existence); or a medium might be used to express the job or role of someone who might fill the space between ghost and ghost-seeker.
One doesn’t wonder at the confusion. Even as someone who can claim English as my mother tongue, I find myself flummoxed by each generation’s fascination with taking a well-established word or phrase and redefining it in new and unexpected ways. As a case-in-point, it could be expected that the much-discussed gay marriage debate has little to do with allowing or disallowing gayety, once commonly defined as meaning a sense of happiness or joyfulness, in the institution. Indeed, it might not be a bad idea for legislatures to attempt to pass a law requiring this sort of gay marriage.