Column takes stand on a versatile word

Barry Wood

In one of those moments between asleep and awake, I was wondering what I would write about this week when, for no apparent reason, an old pun came to mind:

"A farmer is a man who is outstanding in his field."

So I hope you can stand this appreciation of "stand," another marvelously versatile word.

There are all sorts of stands: music stand, concession stand, roadside stand, Custer's Last Stand, a stand of trees, handstand and headstand (which are pretty much the same), and bandstand and grandstand. Strangely enough, those last two and other places for fans are stands where most people sit.

In fact, it isn't necessary to be on your feet to take a stand, make a stand, stand up for what you believe in, stand up to a bully, stand corrected or even be a stand-up person. However, you'll probably need to stand to do stand-up comedy, for which you could be given a standing ovation -- or be forced to stand down.

It's not a good thing to stand someone else up, because you may not get a second chance.

When Elton John sings "I'm still standing," it doesn't mean that he has been standing still.

A standstill is often the result of a standoff, and it may take someone who is standoffish to help resolve things.

You may stand more than 6 feet, but you stand on just two feet. Most of us would like to be able to stand on our own two feet. But in very crowded places, you have to be on your toes or someone may stand on your feet.

When you stand trial, you are allowed to take the stand in your own defense. Of course, if your testimony can't stand up under questioning, you won't stand a chance.

Tammy Wynette sang "stand by your man," but it isn't always pleasant to be on standby.

A symbol stands for something. But as times change, people may decide there are symbols they won't stand for anymore.

A substitute stands in for someone else.

Sometimes you have to stand and deliver, but other times it's best to stand clear.

Conservatives like to stand pat, stand fast and stand on ceremony. From their standpoint, there's no good reason to question long-standing traditions.

Of course, the status quo is great for those who are standing guard or in good standing, but that means people who are down and out stand to stay that way.

There are standing orders, standing invitations, standing armies, standing water, team standings and occasionally standing room only.

One last thought: With so many upstanding people in the world, why isn't there more understanding?

Cutting Edge

The other day my youngest son asked whether there was any connection between "scalp" and "scalpel." Yes, and it's an old one.

The most recent ancestor of "scalpel," a surgeon's knife, is a Latin noun for "knife," which is derived from the Latin verb for "to cut."

"Scalp," the skin on the top and back of the head (and a verb for its removal), is directly descended from a Scandinavian word for "pod" and "shell." That came from an Old Norse word for "sheath" -- a case for a knife blade.

Both words have been traced to an Indo-European base for "to cut," which also is the starting point for "shell," "scale" (the fish kind) and "half."

Time for me to cut out.

Barry Wood is a senior copy editor for the Register Star. Contact him at or write to Wood on Words, Rockford Register Star, 99 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61104.