The English language is quirky. It has inconsistent grammar rules, some words are spelled the same but pronounced differently (e.g., “No time like the present,” he said. “It’s time to present her the present.”) and some words have multiple meanings. For example, the word “fair” has at least 17 different meanings including “marked by impartiality and honesty” and “having very little color, coloring, or pigmentation.”
The English language is constantly changing as new words come into existence (like “adulting” and “doomscrolling“) and old ones fall out of use (such as “accouchement” and “tantivy“). Plus, words gain or lose meaning as the language evolves.
When the first Oxford English Dictionary was finally published in 1928, the word with the most meanings was “set” with about 200, such as “to cause to sit : place in or on a seat”, “to become solid or thickened by chemical or physical alteration”, “a number of things of the same kind that belong or are used together”, and “a collection of elements and especially mathematical ones (such as numbers or points).” Since then, the number of definitions of “set” has ballooned to about 430 entries.
However, “set” isn’t the word with the most definitions. In the 20th century, the word “put” overtook “set.” Some of its meanings include: “to place in a specified position or relationship”, and “an option to sell a specified amount of a security (such as a stock) or commodity (such as wheat) at a fixed price at or within a specified time.”
But there is a new champion, which is the word “run.” In the upcoming edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, it has 645 meanings in its verb form alone. Here are a few of the many meanings of the word run:
- Move at a speed faster than a walk, never having both or all the feet on the ground at the same time.
- (with reference to a liquid) flow or cause to flow. “The Mississippi River runs past St. Louis”
- Emit or exude a liquid. “she had a cold so her nose was running:
- Pass into or reach a specified state or level. “Inflation is running above normal.”
- Be in charge of; to manage. “Andrea runs her own catering business.”
- Be in or cause to be in operation; function or cause to function. “The BMW i4 M50 I’ve ordered runs on electricity.”
- To go back and forth. “The train runs between NYC and DC.”
- To be a candidate in an election. “Ben is running for Congress.”
- (Of a story, argument, or piece of writing) have a specified wording or contents. “Omicron sweeps across the U.S. ran the headline.”
- To continue in force, operation, or production. “Ryan O’Reilly’s contract runs for one more year.”
- To occur persistently. “Musical talent runs in her family.”