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Word Wisdom: Gamut

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser
Word Wisdom

On Saturday, April 6, Lainey was born into our daughter’s family. When she arrived home, I went through a gamut of emotions, which I think is typical of many parents and grandparents. There is happiness in a safe birthing experience for mother and child. There is awe at the miracle of new life. There is fear for the future of this new person in the world of change and decay. There is astonishment at the amazing potential in such a small package.

Gamut means an entire range or series running from one possible extreme to another. The opinions ran the gamut, from panic to indifference, from optimism to pessimism.

Gamut was originally associated with a series of musical notes. Millions of non-musicians were introduced to the tonic sol-fa method by the song “Do-Re-Mi,” in the 1965 musical film The Sound of Music, adapted from the 1958 stage musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. In English speaking countries the scale is often taught by the singing of — do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti. An 11th century monk and musician, Guido d’Arezzo, invented a notational system that named the six notes of the hexachord (a six note series) after the first syllable of each line of the Latin hymn ‘Ut queant laxis,’ the Hymn to St. John the Baptist. Each successive line of this hymn begins on the next scale degree, so each note's name was the syllable sung at that pitch in this hymn, yielding ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la. ‘Ut ‘was changed in the 1600s in Italy to the more easily sung syllable ‘do,’ at the suggestion of the musicologist Giovanni Battista Doni. Fun fact: Doni must have had an egoistic character as he made this change based on the first syllable of his surname. 

The monk Guido d’Arezzo called the first line of his bass staff gamma, which meant that ‘gamma ut’ was the term for a note written on the first staff line. In time, ‘gamma ut’ experienced a reduction to gamut. Eventually, its meaning expanded to cover all the notes of d’Arezzo’s scale.

In the 1850s, gamut was applied to a range of colours or hue. The morning sky exhibits a gamut of colours when the sun peeks through the clouds. Eventually, gamut was applied to an entire range of any sort. Alternative medicine covers a gamut of unconventional, traditional, and eastern based practices. Her works span the gamut from comedy to drama mystery. The interviewer has the talent to talk naturally to the full gamut of people, from the homeless to the prime minister.

Synonyms of gamut are range, compass, sweep, scope, and orbit.

Range is a term indicating the extent of one’s perception or the extent of powers, capacities, or possibilities. The thick volume tried to cover the entire range of human experiences with dogs.

Compass implies a limited degree of perception and knowledge. Her concerns lay beyond the narrow compass of the study on chemicals used to treat water at Buffalo Pound.

Sweep suggests the amount of activity.  He had been a teacher for so long that the sweep of his influence extended across three generations of the same family.

Scope is applicable to areas of predetermined and limited activities. The CSI officer was forced to widen the scope of the investigation to discover more evidence that could lead to charges.

Orbit means a circumscribed limit of influence within which forces work toward modification. The provincial government believes that classroom resources are not within the orbit of contracts with teachers.

My listening habits tend to run through the entire gamut of musical styles, depending upon what I am doing at the time. However, I have found that young grandchildren have expanded the gamut of songs I tend to enjoy. Now with Lainey’s presence the lullaby genre will make a comeback.

John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication. 


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