Thursday, July 12, 2007

Musical chords

Someone (a student of mine) asked me the difference between a chord and a musical chord. At first I chuckled at the question, because after all, a chord is a chord -- it's part of music.

But after thinking about it for a moment, I realized that it depends on how the word is used, and the intent of the question. Did she mean that she really doesn't know that all chords are music chords? While possible, that didn't seem likely. Or perhaps she used the word "musical" in the sense of "pleasant or good" -- one chord is musical, while another chord is discordant.

That started me thinking about words in general, and how we who speak English as a native language must drive other people nuts (there's another idiom!) with our idioms.

Take, for example, the phrase "candy box". 99% of us would assume that what is being spoken of is candy in a box. But to a person who grew up speaking another language, it could mean a box made out of candy. And that is a simple example -- it gets much more complex.

I have a young friend from Mexico that I joke with, and one day I called him a hot dog. He looked at me quizzically and asked "pero calliente?" -- which is the literal translation of hot dog. He wondered if I was calling him a dog that was hot.
So I explained the idiom, and he got a big kick out of it, and now calls me "pero calliente" every time I see him.

And so while I realize that phrases such as "musical chords" can mean different things to different people, I told the lady who asked that they are the same as any kind of chords. And chords, of course, are groups of 3 or more notes played simultaneously. (Unless you are speaking of "broken chords" -- but let's not go there...or "implied chords" ...and let's definitely not go there!)
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