HomeVolume 7March 2022 Word plays

HARPREET BHAN experiments with some simple plays on words in order to explore the profound meaning that words can sometimes offer us.

The veil is lifting and all that is evil or vile in me is being expunged.
As I am refined, transformed by the live transmission pouring into me,
I finally begin to live.

The above sentence has an interesting word play. The words “evil,” “veil,” “vile,” “live (rhyming with alive)” and “live (rhyming with give)” are all various constructs of the same four letters – e, l, i, and v.

Just like these words, we are born with the same ingredients, the same alphabet letters. Yet we live different lives and create very different destinies, which can range from evil or vile to coming a-live and living life to its fullest potential. Just as a small difference in the arrangement of letters can change the meaning of a word completely, so the smallest of choices can lead to a series of consequences that completely alter the course of our lives.

Drilling deeper into this word play, it is interesting to note that while we can find words that start with e, l, and v, there are none that start with i. And none of the words end with i. Isn’t it truly meaningful that nothing can start or end with i? There is clear inspiration for the i to find its right place within something bigger than itself, and place itself in a way that makes the whole more significant, powerful, and consequential. The final destination has no place for anything that starts or ends in i.

Reflecting on other word plays, it is fascinating to see how something apparently small can have such a large impact on the entire meaning of a word. For example, in Sanskrit, Brahm means Reality, while Bhram means illusion, which is diametrically opposed to reality. Similarly, Brahman refers to someone who is realized, who has reached the ultimate destination, whereas Bhraman describes someone who is wandering. Just a small change in the order makes a monumental change to the meaning.

Let me share one final reflection on the prefix “de.” Generally, we assume that adding “de” to a word will somehow reduce it. For example, value becomes devalue, and construct becomes deconstruct. In a strange way, an extremity of evil is “the evil” or “d’evil” or indeed devil. Then again, if you look more closely, there is a wonderful positivity that “de” can bring to certain words. “Vote” indicates we have a choice amongst several options, whereas “devote” is normally used to describe worship or something similar. Another way to look at “devote” is when it alludes to a “willing choiceless-ness” – an affirmation of “I choose not to vote. I choose to do so most willingly and joyously, as I remain de-voted to my beloved.” The choice is simply not ours anymore. Try this with another word “serve.” Deserve can be interpreted as “de-serve,” indicating a state of mind when we don’t even know we are serving, thus becomes deserving.


Harpreet Bhan

Harpreet Bhan