June 17, 2022
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
Harrison Middleton University will take a summer recess from June 18 through July 10. Naturally, the notion of recess got me thinking about language itself.
According to Merriam-Webster, recess (taken from the Latin recedere, or to recede) means either: the action of receding; a hidden secret or secluded place or part; indentation, cleft, alcove; or a suspension of business or procedure often for rest or relaxation. The more I think about it, the more I can visualize my summer break in the form of an alcove, a literal space for privacy and relaxation.
In order to demonstrate the way that recess creates a physical space, I simply rewrote the definition as follows, which matches the meaning and creates a sort of concrete poem.
the action of receding;
a hidden, secret or secluded place or part;
indentation, cleft, alcove; or
a suspension of business or procedure often for rest or relaxation.
Instead of recess, we can also say that we’re going to take a break. With more than eighteen definitions for the transitive verb alone, break is truly a fascinating word. Imagine the myriad ways that we use the verb. We can break a spell, break into tears, break the law or sound barrier, break a promise or a plate, break a bone, break bad news or a bad habit, break a news story, break the bank, break a dollar bill or break a sweat (and truly, I haven’t even broken the surface of meaning yet). Other things can break too. For example, storms break, so do banks and hearts, dishes and bones, and jets that break left or right. In fact, it is difficult to imagine an everyday item that cannot break: jewelry, tables and chairs, beds, teacups, cars, computers, dishwashers, lights, etc. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary lists eighteen definitions of break as a transitive verb and another fifteen for the intransitive verb.
Break can also be used as a noun, as demonstrated by HMU’s use of “summer break.” Merriam-Webster lists eleven definitions under the noun category. For example, we have summer breaks, fast breaks, lucky breaks, service breaks, line breaks, daybreak, or lunch breaks.
And then there are the idioms. Backbreaking does not mean that anyone’s back literally broke, but it embellishes and describes difficult work. Likewise, heartbreak does not mean that the heart no longer functions, but metaphorically describes the emotional toll of pain. Compound nouns like this come from Old English, from the desire to bring two unlike things together and make something called kennings. Beowulf is, of course, famous for its kennings. For example, in Beowulf, “whale-road” is a kenning which describes the sea.
In this post, I really have not told you anything that you don’t already know. But sometimes a focus on the obvious makes it more precious somehow.
So, the long and short of this post is that for the next three weeks, you should enjoy time for summer activities. Don’t sweat coursework and essays. Allow yourself a break, a respite, a short time with family, butterflies, summer sun, music, lemonade, and water sports. Maybe fiddle with the word “break” to see how many meanings you can make. Take a break, a respite, an interim, an intermission, an actual rest. We hope that you can take advantage of the longer days, enjoy a moment with family and friends, and we will see you soon!
If you’re struggling for ideas of ways to spend your break check back on this blog in the next weeks for a list of summer break activities.
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