keen (adj.)

Have you noticed that my posts for word of the week have something in common. Both times I have emphasized phonetic qualities. In the first case it was the sound of what the word described, and last week it was the spitting sound of the word itself.

Indeed, the association of sound and meaning is one of the things that makes certain words more beautiful than others. It’s what can make single words work their magic like poetry.
Such is the case this week. The appropriateness of the velar plosive[k] followed by the long close frontal vowel [i:] is just perfect. I can picture the blade of a lovingly sharpened knife gleaming dangerously. More interesting is the derived meaning of the adjective when describing a person. We all know the phrase to be keen on sth as wanting sth really badly. But we are not so familiar with keen as a character trait. Surely, however, everybody knows someone who is very well described by that.
I also have several acquaintances in mind. But one of the best examples comes from literature. Sherlock Holmes is in my opinion one of the keenest characters in literary history – at least when he absorbed in one of his criminal investigations.
Also, try to picture a tracking dog following a hot scent. That’s a good image of keenness.

As an interesting aside: just the other week I heard that US actor Mark Ruffalo named his son Keen. Let’s hope he will not be confused with keen (n.), an Irish funeral song.

keen on

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