K is for Keys

Music touches on a few aspects of the word key.


I have become fascinated with the word key. It’s a short word, worth 10 points in Scrabble, but it has so many meanings. Reference.com shows some four dozen definitions. And while some are interlocking, most of them address some sort of structure.

There is that metal thing that moves a bolt that I tend to hate because I tend to misplace it. I have a couple of duplicates of my house keys, one outside the structure – no, it’s not under the mat – just in case. Someone told me a long time ago that the number of keys one has related to how important they were. The most important person I ever knew, by that definition, was my elementary school janitor.

Then there’s “something that affords a means of access”, such as the key to happiness. The word shows up at least a half dozen times in the Bible in this context, including Luke 11:52 (New International Version)- “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” Lawyer bashing has a rich tradition.

“Something that affords a means of clarifying a problem,” I would contend, would include the pronunciation key in the dictionary, the answer key to an exam, and like entities.

Things that look like keys, such as the islands known as the Florida Keys, or a part of the floor in basketball. Or something that is the center of things, something that’s important, such as the key to figuring out a mystery; Pennsylvania is the Keystone State.

Music touches on a few aspects of the word key. The keys on the piano or other instruments, like the keys to a calculator or computer keyboard, are the items that are touched; singer Alicia Augello Cook changed her last name to Keys in honor of piano keys. But the key is also “the principal tonality of a composition: a symphony in the key of C# major.”

Stevie Wonder recorded the 1976 Grammy album of the year, Songs in the Key of Life. It featured the big hits I Wish and Sir Duke, but also this minor hit As.

I came across this list of songs containing the word key. Thought I’d pick a few:
Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key-Billy Bragg & Wilco, featuring Natalie Merchant; a Woody Guthrie lyric completed by Bragg.
Key To The Highway-B.B. King and Eric Clapton.
Brand New Key-Melanie (live). “Don’t go too fast, but I go pretty far.”

ABC Wednesday – Round 8