I started looking over vocabulary lists for the GRE general test (a graduate school version of the SATs). My prep book breaks down words into certain types with tips on how to study each. Here are the types I’ve found:

  1. Words I’ve never head before
  2. Words I will use in sentence but can’t actually define
  3. Words whose meaning is actually the exact opposite of what I thought it was

While they tell you to watch out for secondary meanings—I knew the verb “flag” means to mark or signal, but it also means to sag or decline—there are a surprising number of words that fall in category 3. These aren’t just cases of a word being used in a different or new way, but actually complete misunderstandings on my part. Apparently “equivocate” doesn’t mean to get the point across by being very precise (cf. “explicit”), but to use ambiguous language to deceive. And “urbane” doesn’t mean run-of-the-mill or low class (cf. “pedestrian”), but sophisticated and refined. I’m going to have to replay entire conversations in my head to make sure I haven’t completely made an idiot of myself.

What really brought this up again, though, was listening to the song “First Day of my Life” by Bright Eyes. It comes across as a really nice and cute love song with a nice and cute video. (I especially love the clips where one person looks at the other without the other seeing. Psychoanalyse that.) So, as I do with all such songs, I played it through a few times and wrote out the lyrics so that I might sing along. As it turns out, it seems not to be a simple profession of love, but an apology.

This is the first day of my life
I swear I was born right in the doorway
I went out in the rain, suddenly everything changed
They were spreading blankets on the beach
Your’s is the first face that I saw
Think I was blind before I met you

The singer describes a times when he and the other were together, happy, and utterly in love. At the sight of the other’s face, “everything changed”, as if they had never seen another person before and had not lived until that moment. But, something has been lost.

I don’t know where I am I don’t know where I’ve been
But I know where I want to go
And so I thought I’d let you know
That these things take forever
I especially am slow
But I realise that I need you
And I wondered if I could come home

The two are not together anymore. What happened, we don’t know. All we have to go on is that the singer still loves the other, and wants to be together again. He continues, reminding the other that they felt the same way once.

Remember the time you drove all night
Just to meet me in the morning
And I thought it was strange you said everything changed
You felt as if you just woke up
And you said this is the first day of my life
I’m glad I didn’t die before I met you

How sincere can this be? Is this really a love that was meant to be?

But now I don’t care I could go anywhere with you
And I’d probably be happy
So if you wanna be with me
With these things there’s no telling
We just have to wait and see

Something more was lost than just being together. Maybe something happened that can’t be forgiven, maybe they’ve just grown apart. The singer clearly wants to believe that that love is still there, but on some level it sounds like he knows something will always be missing.

But I’d rather be working for a paycheck
Than waiting to win the lottery
Besides maybe this time it’s different
I mean I really think you liked me

This love is like a steady job, but it’s no lottery. He’s hopeful that they can work on whatever they have, that it might grow into something it’s not. It makes me sad, in a similar sort of way, that what I thought was a great love song is actually flawed and hurt and hopeful and yearning for something more. In a sense this is a secondary meaning that most people will probably miss.

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