Published:  02:04 AM, 10 January 2019

Semantics for figuring out texts and idioms

Semantics for figuring out texts and idioms

Semantics stands for the study of meaning. Semantics is one of the most vital aspects of linguistic studies. The meaning of a written or verbal text can have different dimensions. The meaning of one literary text can be excavated in multifarious ways.

The first and foremost thing to keep in mind while evaluating literary texts is getting hold of their meanings. Meanings have outward and ulterior interfaces, while meanings of literary texts have apparent as well as allegoric interpretations. For this reason, literary scholars need to have dexterity in semantics.

Actually literary assessments cannot be isolated from semantics under any circumstances because unless readers and critics catch up with the inner meanings of extracts from poetry, prose and plays, they cannot perceive the real charm of literature. The following details interpret some literary texts from a semantic point of view.

For example, in William Shakespeare's famous tragedy Macbeth, Lady Macbeth goes crazy with penitence following the murder of King Duncan. She had instigated her husband Macbeth to assassinate the king to secure his throne. But as the terrible sense of guilt starts burning her conscience, she cannot pardon her for the sin she had committed.

Out of that agony and inner torment she says, "Here's the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." In this dialogue "All the perfumes of Arabia" allegorically means that no level of repentance can cure the insanity of Lady Macbeth for her role behind the murder of King Duncan.

Let's take a look at P.B. Shelley's poem "To a Skylark". The poet elevates sorrow to the height of a touchstone through the following words: "Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.'' The fire of sorrow can burn life and turn it into pure gold. The meaning of life is best understood in sorrow. Deep inside our hearts, we all cherish some sorrows which are really our own. So, the songs that tell about the sorrow of life express the deep truth of life. This is why we like them most.

John Keats, another English romantic poet says in his poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn": "Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter"

The idea is that a "heard melody" -- that is, music we hear -- may be sweet, but an "unheard melody" -- music we only imagine -- can be as sweet as our imagination wants it to be. Keats took the notion from the paintings on a piece of Greek pottery, the figure of a man playing a flute to a woman. It's just an image of someone playing music, we can't hear what he was playing, but we can imagine it to be as beautiful as we wish. This is how we can grasp the untold meanings of the words the poet told.

In Emily Dickinson's poem "I Died for Beauty-But Was Scarce" the speaker says that she died for "beauty" while she finds herself conversing with a man that died for "truth" who was laid in a grave next to her.

Through their unearthly conversation the poet comes up with the message that truth and beauty are equally valuable and are worth dying for.  Through years and centuries to come, some people will lay down their lives with smiles to uphold the glory of truth and beauty-that's the inherent meaning of this poem, when perused with a deeper insight.

Semantics is indispensable for interpretation of literary texts because the hidden significance of ornamented words may evade the minds of readers and analysts if their meanings are not precisely comprehended. Semantics gets us very close to the linguistic approach to literature. When we judge literature through linguistic lenses, we have to examine literary style and rhetoric. Literary style and rhetoric take us to an exclusive field of linguistics known as stylistics.

We can apply semantic aspects to interpret the meanings and usage of idioms too. Some popular idioms are furnished below with examples which are often used by people to convey particular messages through idiomatic expressions.  

Play gooseberry:
To be a third person with two people who have a romantic relationship and want to be alone together: "Dave and Michelle invited me to go out with them but I don't want to play gooseberry all evening".
Play possum:
To pretend to be asleep or not aware of something, in order to deceive somebody: "Jack decided that his best course of action would be to play possum and wait for her to give up".

Pass the buck:
To refuse to accept responsibility for a mistake, accident, important decision, etc. and try to get another person, organization, etc. to accept responsibility for it instead: "The same thing happens after every disaster. All the officials and ministries involved just try to pass the buck".

Kick the bucket:   
To die: "He got married for the first time when he was 85 and a week later he kicked the bucket".

Tip of the iceberg:
What you can see of a problem or difficult situation is only one small part of a much larger (hidden) problem: "The 1000 homeless people in London sleeping in night shelters are only the tip of the iceberg. There are many thousands of homeless people in the capital".

Rob Peter to pay Paul
To take money from one area and spend it in another: "Government spending on education has not increased: Some areas have improved, but only as a result of robbing Peter to pay Paul".

A square peg in a round hole
Not fit in well or easily into an organization, job etc. because inappropriate are different: "she feels like a square peg in a round hole the concerned person is inappropriate in that company".

One's best bib and tucker
Your best clothes that you only wear on special occasions: "Evans put on his best bib and tucker and booked a table at a top restaurant for   a romantic dinner".

Lock, stock and barrel:
A person's or an organization's total assets. "He sold all his lock, stock and barrel but still could not buy a car".

Cloak and dagger story:
A story full of mysteries and thrill. "Cloak and dagger stories are very popular with young readers".

The writer is a literary analyst for The Asian Age

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