Three letters — t -a -g-, and a myriad of meanings. Language is so fascinating; if one allows him/herself to think about it — randomly or rationally, the result is often overwhelming.
For some reason, the word “tag” crossed my mind as I drove in to town to do my daily chores — to check the mail, pick up a thing or two at the grocery store, check in at the Optic for the latest developments. Before I realized, tag became an obsession and, like a brain worm, kept coming back to haunt me.
Writers do things that others might think are eccentric. They make lists, for example. So my next step was to brainstorm on “tag.” I came up with half a dozen or so usages with tag. The typical childhood game of tag, tag board, laundry or clothes tag, tag in baseball, tag-team match, etc.; you get the idea. Well, the brain worm persisted, so given the access to modern technology, I Googled “tag” and found that there were 136 million entries for this three-letter word. Yeah, I’ll bet you’re thinking, “Doesn’t she have anything better to do?”
Well, I do, but until the brain worm is satisfied, I’m not, so it takes precedence. OK, the electronic American Heritage Dictionary rendered 11 noun and eight verb usages for the English word “tag.” Too many to discuss here, but you can check it out if you’re interested. I’ll confess to having referred to my Webster’s, my Fowler’s (which didn’t even touch tag, by the way), my Roget’s, which was curt in its pronouncements on tag as noun and verb. My mind began to wander to other languages — to the word tact derived from Latin, “tango, tangere, teci, tactum” — to touch; from there to Tag, auf Deutsch, meaning day; OK, that didn’t compute here but that made me pause, breathe, take a new tack, which is defined as taking a zig-zag course. Enough, already!
Almost too obviously, tag as a verb, generally means to touch lightly, but it could mean to hit solidly,as well, and to follow closely and persistently; as a noun, it refers to the concept of a loose, fragmentary portion attached to something, e.g., a label for purposes of identification, a quotation used for rhetorical emphasis; and on and on.
It got me to thinking. Back when we were kids and didn’t have iPods, television, Wi-Fi, etc., we played tag. The object of the game was for whoever was “it” to tag or touch a person, thus magically transforming him or her into “it!” But what was it? Well, in the game, “it” was the next tagger. And the game lasted for as long as all the “its” and non-its had stamina. Magically, by a touch and a pronouncement, the person who was “it” assumed an identity different from the one he/she had before being “it.”
Then my mind wandered to the tags on merchandise, in this case, tag being a noun, not a verb as in the tag game. Hmm, that led to the idea of “it” again. Do the tags on what we buy confer a special identity upon the items? Think about it. Follow my logic (or nonsense), please.
You walk into the store. An item or piece of clothing, jewelry, etc. catches your attention. It is what it is — just a commodity. Then you notice the tag or tags attached to the item and suddenly the item takes on a new identity. Ah, a brand-name, ah, a bargain, ah, a piece of conspicuous consumption which will render you the object of everyone’s attention and envy. On the other hand, the tag might be a turn-off. Your mind races and you might say, “Are you kidding? I would never pay that much for a measly such-and-such.” All because of a tag.
Then there are the acronyms that TAG suggests , e.g. The Adjutant General — as Mr. Arthur Vargas informed me (and was corroborated in the dictionary). Then came the sports terminology — tagging bases, tagging the runner, tag-team wrestlers, for example.
All in, by now, my thoughts turned to “tagging” that identifies the activity (often illegal) that appears overnight on a prominent wall — sometimes considered “artistic” by certain segments of society … including Santa Fe’s former mayor, Debbie Jaramillo, who regards all graffiti as art and all taggers as artists, even proposing dedicated walls for them. It certainly catches one’s attention! And if caught, the taggers could face legal and monetary consequences. Again, all because of a tag.
It staggers the mind, but I have to tag back to reality and write this column. I’m hoping it gets tag out of my system, because, as we say in Spanish, ya basta(g)! Enough, already.
Lupita P. Gonzales is an educator and member of the Optic Editorial Board. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.