Monday, June 8, 2009

The trouble with words

It's always bugged me that the truck bringing concrete to your construction site is called a "cement truck." Yet if you call it a "concrete truck," people will look puzzled and say, "You mean somebody built a truck out of concrete?"

"Cement truck" means, in the popular mind, the truck that delivers concrete. We can't change it.

So I have the same queasy feeling when I use the word "cobblestone" to describe a variety of pavings, some of actual round cobbles and some of flat quarried stone. You even see brick paving described as cobblestone. You can't fight the consensus. I'll try to be as accurate as possible, but I try to be a writer who speaks in the popular language. We'll see how it works out.

In the previous post, I managed to avoid describing Piazza Cavalli as having cobblestone, but I used "cobblestone" in the title because it is part of a thread on that subject. Language, like living with the past, is an ongoing battle. Sometimes, so as not to break up the flow of a sentence with a parenthesis or a footnote, I'll have to call a paving stone a cobblestone. I'm sorry, I know it's like dropping a cigarette butt in the middle of somebody's beautiful craftsmanship. I ask your tolerance.

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