Word of the Day / Patent

A term with roots in inventing can also stand in for a particularly inventive idea.

You might think that, as an English speaker, you already know all you really need to know about the use of the word “patent.” I mean, you can apply for one and hope you get one, and it can expire at some point, and there are patent lawyers who do patent-related stuff having to do with the right to an invention or intellectual property, and that’s pretty much the extent of what the layman needs to know about how to use the word in English.

But while it’s quite a specific term in the English language, the word – pronounced by Israelis as “pa-TENT” – has a much broader meaning in the Hebrew that borrowed it. In addition to the technical meaning of the word, “pa-TENT” can also mean a bright idea or a clever solution, whether manifested in a product that people haven’t seen before (I got it a few times when I was stopped by people interested in my stroller’s optional second seat) or in an innovative or useful method of doing something. For instance, if I could open a beer bottle with my ear, I’m pretty sure I’d hear someone exclaiming “Eizeh [What a] pa-TENT!” (Then again, they might be shouting “Call an ambulance!” It’s so hard to tell when there’s a beer bottle in your ear.)