Wednesday, February 22, 2017

It's a Curious Thing

Recently, being tempted to respond (as I’ve gotten in the habit of doing) to another person’s observation with the simple word “point,” it occurred to me that there was a danger of sounding even more flippant than millennial brevity inevitably is.  I use “point” as a shorthand for “good point,” which is in turn short for “You have made a good point”; and when uttered in the right context, with the appropriately judicial nod, its meaning is clear.  But online, devoid of such markers, a cynic might read the word as “score!”—the sort of Neanderthal fist-bump of an interjection with which our byten language is becoming increasingly rife.

Reader, I turned aside from temptation.  I did not write “point.”

But it made me think: it’s a curious thing, isn’t it, that “point” can mean both “little bit of argument” and “little bit of game score”?  I don’t know, but if I had to guess, I would suspect that both words are derived from the same action of counting—in the former case, of making primitive bullet-points in a summary of a story, a chronicle, or an argument, and in the latter, making a dot or other mark to signify (say) each time an arrow hits the mark, when you (the herald) are aiming to acquire an overall tally determining whether it shall be Robin Hood or Gwendolyn Harleth who retires with the bay leaves.  So perhaps the cynic would not have been so far off after all, in reading my abortive post, since both point1 and point2 would once have been represented by a single black dot.

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