The paper "A Rolling Progression" is an outstanding example of a research paper on English.
We use language to communicate with others and our language choice influences both our meaning and perception of others. Language influences our meaning because language is subjective. This refers to the fact that the meaning of words is different for those listening. The meaning of words to different people depends on many things such as culture, age or social groups. The language also changes over time, so that the meaning of some words in the 1800s might be different than the meanings that are given to these words today. Finally, the definition of a given word might be different based upon the context in which it is used. All of these factors come into play when trying to define a word such as ‘rolling’. To explore how this can be so, the various meanings of the word ‘rolling’ will be explored.
The word ‘rolling’ can be used either as a verb, a noun or as an adjective. The root form of the verb, ‘roll’, has at least 38 definitions listed in the American Heritage Dictionary (2003). Most of these refer to a progressive movement through the process of revolving. Some of these definitions include “to move forward along a surface by revolving on an axis or by repeatedly turning over; to travel or be moved on wheels or rollers; to turn over and over” (American Heritage Dictionary, 2003). These definitions make it clear that the verb ‘roll’ or ‘rolling’ refers to a movement illustrated by a log moving from the top of a hill to the bottom as it revolves with the force of gravity.
The word also has the meaning of an adjective. The American Heritage Dictionary defines this adjective as meaning “having gentle rising and falling slopes” (2008). This provides authors and poets with the highly descriptive phrases they use in their work to suggest a gentle succession of rounded shapes such as the ‘rolling clouds’ or ‘rolling hills.’ It is the context in which it is placed that enables listeners to determine whether the author is speaking of stationary hills that gently rise in succession into the horizon or if the hills are actually moving like waves over the surface of the earth. “It is our understanding of semantics that allows us to recognize that someone who is ‘green with envy’ has not changed hue, or that ‘having cold feet’ has less to do with the appendage at the end of our legs and more to do with our anxiety about a new experience” (Popp, 2004: 42). By playing with context, the meaning of the word can be changed a great deal as new slang phrases continue to develop.
It is in considering the possible literariness of these sorts of word plays that lead to the development of slang phrases that play on the meaning of the word. One such phrase is ‘let’s get rolling’. This type of phrase plays on the verb meaning of the word to physically move via something revolving because it refers to travelling from one place to another, usually using wheels as a primary mover. It also plays on the more descriptive meaning of the term meaning to gently sway in a rhythmic motion as the actual motion of the individuals within the conveyance, whether it was a buggy in the old days or a car in the new, is minimal with the car or buggy doing all of the work.
The word ‘roll’ can also be used as a noun, intended to refer to something bundled in some way. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “a gentle swell or undulation of a surface; something rolled up; the act or an instance of rolling” (2008). This could refer to a stack of dollar bills curled into a wad or a substance such as tobacco bundled into a cylindrical or rounded form. Again, this meaning, while perfectly appropriate and legitimate, can be taken to an ultimate measure to describe something such as two people curled up in the cylindrical wrapping of the bedsheets in slang terms such as ‘rolling in the hay’ to refer to the act of sex. While slang terms such as ‘let’s get rolling’ and ‘rolling in the hay’ have been around for many years and maybe perfectly understandable to anyone who has grown up within the English language, they would not be so recognizable to an individual just approaching the language.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate how culture limits understanding of terms seemingly as simple as the word ‘rolling’ might be is to look at a specific and relatively limited culture such as the drug culture. Within this culture, phrases such as ‘rolling on ecstasy’ might be used. According to a health services website offered through Columbia University, the drug ecstasy somehow began to be called ‘rolls’ on the street, using the word as a noun. “Some users say they are ‘rolling’ because of the waves of euphoria and desire to connect when high. While some users ride a continual high, and then a slow comedown, others experience increasingly stronger ‘rolls’ of emotion that overcome and then ebb away, only to be replaced by yet another wave of groovy feelings” (What are Rolls, 2001). Thus, it can be assumed that the drug acquired the name ‘roll’ from the descriptive form of ‘rolling’ that adequately illustrated what users feel when they take the drug. However, someone not living within or close to this culture may not have any real idea of what is being referred to when the term is used.
Time also plays a role in how a specific term is used or defined. While older English-speakers might be very familiar with the phrase ‘let’s get rolling’, they may struggle a bit when hearing a teenager explain ‘that’s just how I roll.’ This term obviously builds on the noun form of the word that helps to illustrate the inner character of the individual, but it is most often used when speaking with other individuals of the same age group. “The way we speak to our parents is not the same as the way we interact with a sibling, for example” (Popp, 2004: 42) and the way we define ourselves to our parents is necessarily more complicated than the way we explain ourselves to our friends operating within the same communication system.
As we use language in our everyday lives, it is important to remember how it can change according to context, culture and time. This does happen automatically to a certain degree, “our speech pattern changes depending upon the individual we are speaking with and our assessment of the most effective means of communicating to them our meaning most specifically” (Snow et al, 2002: 22), but can sometimes lead to miscommunications between people of differing ages, cultures and understandings. While the term ‘rolling’ can have a wide variety of meanings, though, it is usually relatively easy to determine what might be intended by the speaker by paying close attention to age and context.
Popp, Patricia. “Chapter 5.” Reading on the Go! Students who are Highly Mobile and Reading Instruction. Greensboro, NC: National Center for Homeless Education, (December 2004).
“Roll.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 4th Ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.
Snow, C.; Burns, S. & Griffin, P. (Eds.). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. (6th Printing). Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children. National Research Council. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press, (2001).
“What are Rolls?” Go Ask Alice. Columbia University: Health Services at Columbia, (November 30, 2001). October 10, 2008