Looking for the perfect volume

Betsy PickleOpinion, South Knox

A friend described me recently as a “word nerd,” and though she meant it as a compliment, the longer I thought about it, the more it bothered me.

Why is it any more nerdy to be focused on using words correctly than it is to memorize the statistics for every University of Tennessee football team of the 20th century? What’s so wrong about knowing the roots of words in the English language when it’s cool to know every TikTok star or Miley Cyrus’ latest move?

I’m a staunch supporter of “live and let live.” I try to follow the Golden Rule. I believe in freedom of expression, no matter how painful it is to my ears.

Why do I – and my soul mates – have to be made fun of by people who don’t know the difference between “lightning” and “lightening”?

It’s a sorrowful situation, indeed, especially when you consider how fascinating words are. I sympathize with people trying to learn English because I know it’s a confusing language, and few of its native practitioners in this country are expert at it.

Take the word “volume.” Merriam-Webster lists five definitions for it. I’ve been pondering two specifically.

The first has to do with loudness. I remember paying close attention to the volume buttons on various radios and stereos when I was a kid because my dad absolutely did not like my kind of music. If any notes (or guitar solos) intruded on his consciousness, he would let me know immediately – and not gently.

One of the things I like best about my house is how quiet it is. My head is so full of decades’ worth of music that I rarely need to play any. I love stillness, and I usually have it (this weekend’s fireworks notwithstanding).

The second definition that’s had me thinking is the amount of space taken up by something. How many cereal boxes did I read as a child that cautioned, “This package is measured by weight, not by volume.” In other words, “we didn’t cheat you – the Cap’n Crunch in the enclosed bag settled during handling.”

I haven’t eaten Cap’n Crunch in a long time, but my Wheaties box still says the same thing.

What matters is the weight. You can have a lot of something that seems like it has volume, but it might not weigh very much, and vice versa.

I feel like we’re not getting a lot of weight from politicians and talking heads these days, but we’re also not getting much volume in the mass sense, only in the loudness. I wish we could turn that around.

We probably need to start with the voters. And they need to start by understanding words.


It’s official: South Knoxville coffee shops are giving artisan-beer joints a run for their money.

Monday, July 12, marks the opening of CommonPlace Coffee & Community at 6000 Chapman Highway, at the south entrance to the Lake Forest neighborhood and the beginning of the Colonial Village business district. (It’s in the former home of the Knox County Teachers Federal Credit Union.)

It joins South Press, 3715 Chapman Highway, and Honeybee Coffee, 700 Sevier Ave., in offering South Knoxvillians a friendly location to enjoy a cup of crafted java.

The CommonPlace Facebook page has a post introducing some of the team, including owner Eli Cockrum. Nice touch! Hours are 7 a.m.-5 p.m.

Betsy Pickle is a veteran reporter and editor who occasionally likes to share her opinions with KnoxTNToday readers.

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