I remember when I was growing up hearing someone say something about “that ole wench,” and although I didn’t know what the term meant, I knew by the tone of voice, it couldn’t be a good thing.
Then as I grew older I learned about the mechanical “winch” (different spelling) and knew it is a good thing, especially if you’re trying to pull or hoist a heavy item.
My husband came home with a funny story the other day. He had been about a hundred miles south of Corinth to pick up an old John Deere tractor. The man he did business with commented that he had a winch on his truck if they needed it.
Then he laughed heartily and shared a story.
Sometime back the man had been called to the home of a little southern lady who needed him to haul a car for her. When he was preparing to load the car on the back of his ton truck, he made the comment that “we can hook this winch to it and pull it right onto the truck.”
The lady immediately turned and exclaimed, “You will not talk about me like that. Get your truck and get off my property!”
Afraid to insist on giving an explanation, the man did get in his truck and made a speedy exit.
Months later, the little lady called and apologized to the man. She realized he had been talking about the winch on the back of the truck and finally got the courage to ask him to come back by and help her.
We laughed about how shocked this guy must have been when he was ordered off the property, being accused of something totally different from his good intentions. Then I thought about how easily our words can be taken the wrong way – according to how we’ve heard them used in our lifetime.
I looked up the definition for wench and found that back in Shakespeare’s day, the word simply meant a young girl or a servant girl. Then over time the word became an offensive term as it was used to describe a woman with a bad reputation or even a prostitute.
…So we know the difference in the two words above is in the spelling. But what about those words that have the exact same spelling but can mean different things?
Like “cleave” which can mean “to cling” or “to split.”
“Custom” which can mean “standard” or “tailored.”
If you “dust” something, you might be cleaning it or you might be adding something to it. You might “refrain” from doing something or you might sing one more “refrain” in a musical rendition.
Another word we hear a lot is “sanction” – our country punishing another country by cutting off certain services or supplies. The word also can mean to permit or approve.
Trim can mean to remove from or to add to or can even mean the size of something – as “The trim young lady trimmed her hair and put on a dress trimmed in chantilly lace.”
…So I guess we need to be careful which words we use and how we use them. The guy who only wanted to help someone with his service truck never expected to be lambasted for offering the use of his “winch” – a hauling or lifting device consisting of a rope, cable, or chain winding around a horizontal rotating drum, turned by a crank or by motor or other power source.
The little lady probably didn’t know at the time there was such a helpful tool!