Word for Wednesday: Keeper

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The word Keeper is derived from the Middle English verb kepen; the act of taking possession and or care of something.

The Oxford English dictionary tells us that a keeper is a person charged with responsibility for the preservation and conservation of something valuable.

Strangely we hear the idiom ‘I am not my brother’s keeper’ (a distorted quote from the Biblical story of Cain and Abel); apparently brothers don’t qualify as valuable!

Most often, the word keeper is used with a prefix: goalkeeper, gatekeeper, zookeeper and so on.

However, keeper is sometimes used in informal contexts as a noun referring to something of high quality worth keeping, ‘this one’s a keeper’.

The title of ‘keeper’ is only earned through hard work and reliability; a ‘keeper’ of any kind takes on many responsibilities and must be willing to invest plenty of time into ‘keeping’.

As a child, I played goalkeeper for my local soccer club; and since then I’ve played hundreds of games as a defender – nothing can quite compare to the guilt of losing a game of soccer as a goalkeeper! Upon losing I would always feel responsible, being the one who actually let the goals in.

I guess the role of keeper encompasses the responsibility for others too; yes, a zookeeper must make sure the animals are healthy but the wellbeing of the public is also important. A groundskeeper will feel responsible should an inconsiderate visitor leave garbage all over the lawn!

Being a keeper seems to be a proud and respectable occupation, but seemingly requires patience, time and motivation – this carefulness is inherent in the Middle English ancestor of the word.

What do you think when you hear the word keeper?

Hugh MacDermott

09 Oct 2013
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