There are some words where it’s almost impossible to impose a normative, public meaning over your own, erratically conceived personal meaning.
Most people these days don’t like moustaches because they are tragically unfashionable slivers of body hair. I’ve never got on with moustaches because I’ve never got on with the word. It has always seemed to me a bad word; a mischievous, unruly, untrustworthy piece of lexical gimcrackery. This is certainly because as a child I was perfectly aware of what a moustache was, but struggled to relate it to that mysterious combination of letters that I would read (usually in Biggles stories, where, regardless of circumstances, moustaches were always waxed). I was convinced that I was reading about ‘mouse-hatches’; while I could just about imagine mice themselves being waxed for typically unfathomable grown-up reasons, I could never grasp how or why one would wax their hatches.
As you may imagine, when I finally correlated the word with the thing, my world got slightly less mysterious if, I fear, slightly less interesting.
Most of these semantic hiccups are long gone from my mind, but one remains with the dogged persistence of, well, a dog:
I cannot see a shop-fitter’s van without misreading his profession as ’shop-lifter’. These workmen, I always think for a happy split-second before limp reality kicks in, are such professionals that they can advertise the fact that they are in the business of thieving you. For a brief and sunny moment, they seem as modern pirates, moved from the High Seas to the High Street, flying the Jolly Roger proudly as they park up in front of their target, daring it to try to escape, knowing that with their bravado and their cuirasses, they are unstoppable.
Sometimes, you know, I really prefer my world to yours.