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Going for the burn

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There are things that one can burn without negative consequences. One can burn a candle for light. Or burn wood for fire and heat, or to prepare meals.

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WORDS have a fascination that goes beyond their dictionary meaning.

Take the word “burn”. Our most common understanding is related to flame or fire. The dictionary says that to burn means to destroy, consume, damage or injure by fire, heat or a heat-producing agent.

The tendency to conflate burning almost exclusively with destruction needs to be redefined. It fits my agenda for improved literacy, for clearer definition and the consequent clearer understanding.

You don’t burn what you own or respect.

There are things that one can burn without negative consequences. One can burn a candle for light. Or burn wood for fire and heat, or to prepare meals.

One can burn off intrusive weeds and unwanted stuff.

On another level, one can burn without reducing anything. One can burn with desire or ambition or pleasure.

One can burn with pride or a sense of achievement. Or even embarrassment, when we can’t handle praise.

One can burn with a desire to free this world of corruption and deceit (and maybe a few fires in this arena can be justified).

In negative contexts, one can tell on a miscreant, like in blow a whistle. Or drive a powerful vehicle at great speed.

Burning can also be used as identification, as in branding animals.

One bizarre meaning of burn is to execute by electricity.

The onset of winter holds the grim reality of homes gutted by carelessness or accident or ignorance.

The campaign to safeguard the unfortunate citizens who still live in hovels should be intensified.

The massive loss of life and food-producing land through uncontrollable fire should be better policed.

And yes, the citizenry who burn things in response to poor service delivery should be counselled against the tendency to torch things.

It is better to burn the midnight oil. That means to study hard.

It is better to burn incense to spread calmness. It is better to burn a candle in the window to guide a loved one home. It is better to light a candle of gratitude, remembrance, reverence, faith, hope.

Candles were a part of my youth. We made our own candles. When we couldn’t afford them, we substituted with glass jars half-filled with paraffin, a hole punched in the screw-on lid, and a piece of cloth as a wick, to illuminate our humble council houses.

These days, candles have deep political resonances. What used to decorate cakes has become essential equipment to help the failing electricity grid. And winter looms.

There are many other meanings for this little word. It used to mean river, strangely. A little stroll through one’s dictionary could fill out my meagre dissertation.

My column is not a social tract, just encouragement to learn through reading.

As that old disco song used to encourage: Burn, baby, burn.