I remember a time when I did not know what the word “occupied” meant.

I was young, maybe seven years old, when I walked into a bathroom at a restaurant, knocked on the door of a stall and the person inside replied, “occupied.” When I returned to my table where my family was having dinner, I asked my mom what “occupied” meant, and she explained it to me.

That memory is the only one I have of learning a relatively basic word. Sure, we see words all the time that we do not know, especially if you read a lot and in a wide variety of genres (like me). When we are in high school, we learn vocabulary words for the SATs, and often our careers include a specific set of jargon that we learn over time. But how many memories do you have of being a kid, learning a basic word for the first time?

So now my existential question is this: why do I remember the day I learned the meaning of “occupied”? Just for “funsies,” let us look at the six-part definition of “occupied” via Dictionary.com:

  1. to take or fill up (space, time, etc.)
  2. to engage or employ the mind, energy, or attention of
  3. to be a resident or tenant of; dwell in
  4. to hold (a position, office, etc.)
  5. to take possession and control of (a place), as by military invasion
  6. ( usually initial capital letter ) to participate in a protest about (a social or political issue), as by taking possession or control of buildings or public places that are symbolic of the issue

It likely is different for everyone, but my first instinct when conceptualizing “occupied” is closest to definition number one. I think this is the definition that most closely describes what the person in the bathroom stall was conveying when they said “occupied.”

When I ponder the second definition, I think of the word “preoccupied.” I often experience the state of “preoccupation” (is that a word?).

The third definition is one you are likely very familiar with if you work in the rental property arena (i.e “that particular apartment is occupied but the occupants are at the end of their three-year lease”). I have used this form of “occupied” before.

Definition number four is not too different from number three, and number five is very specific to times of war. If you have watched a movie or television show about World War II, you probably heard this form of “occupied” a lot. To be honest, I was not familiar with the use of “occupied” in the context of definition number six – interesting factoid, though.

So, the exploration of these six definitions has not exactly opened my mind as to why I have the memory that I do, but at the very least I think it is intriguing that my instinct understanding of “occupied” is the definition by which I first learned the word (the person in the bathroom stall responded “occupied” when I knocked on the door, indicating she was currently taking up the space about which I was inquiring).

What is the significance of this memory or my reflection of it? I am not sure if there is any.

For anyone who is out there reading my blog, I would love to know if you have any early memories of learning the meanings of new words. Feel free to shoot me an email at sciencekara@gmail.com or leave a comment on the blog.

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