Four Score

As well as a reader and a writer, I’m a counter, so I can’t let pass by the observation that this is my 80th entry in the ridiculous challenge I have set myself to post something every day in 2011.  That’s 11 and a half weeks, two and a third months, or four score days, and getting on for 40,000 words.

Now that I’ve written that sentence I’ve focussed my attention on the words I’ve used.

‘Fourscore’ has an archaic sound to it, echoing as it does the ‘three score year and ten’ lifespan allotted to man according to the first English Bible.  I often use the word ‘score’. Usually, because I am consciously trying to avoid the hyperbole and number inflation that is so widespread.

News reports always talk of ‘thousands’, teenagers of ‘millions’ and ‘billions’, Prof Brian Cox of ‘trillions’ (although I think in the context of The Wonders of the Universe, that’s what he really means.)

An all out effort is no longer the application of 100%, it has become 110% or more.  No TV reality show contestant would admit to anything less.

But I like ‘score’.  Strictly speaking it’s twenty; but ‘scores’  is somewhere greater than ‘dozens’ but less than ‘hundreds’, a lot, but still capable of being counted.

It’s one of those interesting words that sent me to my dictionary again……

Yesterday afternoon I went to see The 25th annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Donmar Warehouse.  It’s a frothy, jolly  musical set during a local spelling competition in the gym of a high school in small town America.  In the tradition of shows like A Chorus Line, it presents the quirky participants and their back stories in a series of loosely interconnected songs.

All the children participating (played by adult performers) are geeky to a greater or lesser extent, as one might expect given the prerequisite that they be able to spell words that many members of the audience will never have heard before.

One girl, dressed all in pink, anxious that her father won’t make it in time to see her get to the semi-finals, and with a mother ‘finding herself’ in an ashram in India, confesses that she has learnt to spell so well because she loves to read the dictionary.

Reading the dictionary hasn’t really improved my spelling, which frequently lets me down, but it has fostered a great appreciation of the richness of the English language.  (Perhaps I should also comment that, to my knowledge, my mother has never been to India.)

So back to ‘score’, both a verb and a noun (and between ‘scorcher’, as in ‘phew what a….’, and ‘scoria’, slag or dross of metals), it is a notch or line cut or drawn, or the running account kept in inns for drink and entertainment, as well as the number of points made by a player or side in a competition, and the associated verb to create or record them.

I can see the connection between these two notions, but did the act of making the mark or the counting of those marks come first?

Then there is the definition as a copy of a musical composition which appears at first to come from a different root; but my dictionary suggests that it is linked to the staves braced together, and named for the bar drawn through all the staves.  So it’s another example of the imaginative adoption of a word in a new context which becomes taken up into common usage; the way English constantly adapts and changes.

OK, so I am a geek, and very occasionally I wear pink; but there is something quite satisfying about having made those connections on that score.

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