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09 December 2011

Another Double Meaning

Here's another word that I've just realized has an interesting double meaning - "compose." So something can be "composed of" something - like my bookshelf is composed of wood. Also, something can be "composed by" something - like the painting on the postcard attached to my bookcase was composed by Cezanne. The first has a passive connotation - the wood doesn't have to do anything to compose the bookcase - whereas the second has an active connotation - Cezanne had to actively compose the painting.

Wouldn't it be interesting if we took the word "compose" to always have the active connotation? In that sense, the wood could be said to actively compose the bookcase - to arrange it moment-by-moment in a particular way simply by being wood and by not giving in to the force of gravity.  Should the wood stop composing the bookcase, my books would fall to the ground in a mess and I'd be very unhappy.

It becomes even more relevant when talking about living organisms.  For example, I am "composed of" cells.  But that's not quite right.  My cells are most certainly active, and they work together to create me.  Thus, I am also "composed by" my cells.  I think this way of talking highlights the active vitality of the world around us.  So from now on, when I say "compose" - even when I say "composed of" - you can assume I mean it in the active sense of "composed by."

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