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 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

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

49 thoughts on “K is for Keys”

  1. You probably won’t know this, but we have a sports commentator called Richard Keys. Or rather “had” because he was sacked from his job for making sexist remarks about a female referee when he thought he was off mic.

  2. Who would have thought Keys had so many meanings, I never ever gave much thought to it. Now what happened to the Key to my Thinking? I think I lost it….

  3. Terrific post for the K Day — as always, Roger! And what a beautiful, gold key! I love it. It surely is a word that is used in many different ways. Anthony is right — they do unlock a lot!! Hope your week is off to a great start! Enjoy!

    Sylvia
    ABC Team

  4. If that key belongs to you, you’re a lucky man! Wonderful post about all the different meanings to the word “key.” I really like the Biblical reference! Have a great week.

    Leslie
    ABCW Team

  5. Key is also important because I think there is several interpretations, meaning of our life, our goals, our dreams and so on!
    Very well done dear friend!
    LĂ©ia

  6. My head is on input overload again! But, I never gave it much thought as to how many meanings there are to the word, key. Makes for good subject matter by way of visual art, that’s for sure.
    But, the Biblical citation of lawyer bashing is rich!
    I’ll never look at or regard a key in the same manner any more.

  7. A small word, but so many meanings. Now the question is how many keys do you have that you don’t know what they open? Apparently most people have at least two and they are never thrown away.

  8. I just love your posts. They are so neatly informative. All over the place (in a good way) with such interesting references and ‘inferences’ (sorry). I also love your pun at the beginning about four dozen definitions for “key” some of which are ‘interlocking’.
    As usual, great post. Thank you!

  9. Key may be little but it is certainly an important word and has many splendid meanings, which you have described so openly. I guess this would be because you have the key to K.

  10. Is it any wonder the English language is to difficult to learn?! Entirely too many meanings for the same word. Crazy.

  11. keys have two distinguishing meanings,

    key to unlock the door…

    and

    key boards /piano keys.

    enjoyed both shots.

  12. An elegant key with so many different meanings for the little word. Fascinating. I’ll never look at scrabble the same again.

  13. My it never occurred to me at how many key words there were in so many different things and the such. Enjoy reading your post here. 🙂

  14. ‘Key’ is indeed a word with lots of meanings attached. My own native language is Swedish. Our word for that object which unlocks doors is also used metaphorically. But for the keys of a piano, calculator, typewriter etc we use a different word. I’m rather fascinated by how language interacts with our whole thinking process.

  15. I find it difficult to get rid of keys that I have no idea where they go to. They are just so cool. One of these days I’ll make them into something. Or not.

  16. Keys, everbody is looking for one, either keys for knowledge,Keys for fountain of youth, Keys for the hidden treasure and keys for everything else. 🙂

  17. How about the ditty
    “21 today, 21 today,
    he’s got the key of the door,
    never been 21 before.”
    Jane x

  18. nice entry,…
    it’s nice to be here in your blog too
    This is my first time to join ABC Wednesday
    have a great day and happy blogging.

  19. Very interesting post, Roger. I love the key in your photo! I’m fascinated by keys (to locks) and would love to have a splendid collection – but they’d just get lost in our house. I like the really big, old keys to church doors and manor houses.

  20. What a fun and variety of ways to use “key”….I love the old key in your picture…we had what we called a “skeleton” key for a door in the house we grew up in.

  21. It’s just three letter word and easy to say but has important value and a very important little piece. better keep your car key, or door key otherwise you can’t come in hehehe. Thanks for sharing the dozens definition of keys

  22. Great post as usual – love the info on this so common item – you made it very special!
    How about you hold the key to my heart??
    Have a wonderful week!

  23. I seldom win in scrabble, when I have a Q, I don’t have a U. When I get a U, and keep it waiting for a Q, it never comes.

  24. that key pendant looks good, and you’re right the 3-letter word KEY would score you big time in scrabble especially if it falls on triple word. thanks for the visit.

  25. Awesome post as always, Roger!

    Keys are a great symbol…

    I only carry two keys with me, one from the house’s main door and one from the main gate.

    Kisses from Nydia.

  26. Roger, thanks for this expansive view of keys. A professor once told me that life itself, the planet at least, has a constant vibration of D Flat, which is the key Billy Strayhorn used for “Lush Life,” one of the all-time great jazz standards!

    I wrote a poem about a skeleton key but still cannot find my external hard drive from the move… so I will share it another time. But in the meantime, this was my “K” series of two limericks, so hope you have a laugh!

    http://sharplittlepencil.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/two-k-limericks-abc-weds/

    Peace (in Db), Amy

  27. Arthur – I didn’t say it was an EXHAUSTIVE list. I didn’t mention Francis Scott Key either, and he did cross my mind.

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