It’s Burning Like A Coal
I uttered the title of this post while staring into the small furnace they had in the common room of the hostel in Kashgar. It was a bit like an indoor campfire; we’d all sit around it, telling stories, trying to keep warm.
And then, I realized, in my head, “a coal” (as in “burning like a coal”) and “coal” (as in black mines and such) were two completely different words. It was as if they were the words “vaccuum” and “unicorn”. But, you see, what was burning inside this furnace actually was coal. It was burning like a coal because it was coal. Whoa, that kind of blew my mind hole!
I actually needed to look up the following two words after a brief discussion with the present, non-native English speakers only led (no pun intended) to more confusion: coal and charcoal. “Coal” has two meanings, the mineral meaning and the glowing-while-burning (like coal the mineral does) meaning. Charcoal, as I thought, but the non-native English speakers nearly convinced me otherwise, is not made from coal. It’s just wood or some other organic substance burned without air. Once charcoal does have air, however, then it burns “like a coal” (hence “charred coal”).
Wow, is this all super obvious (and boring)? Perhaps I’m simply losing my English, ‘cause this took me like a week to sort out.
Here was the next couple week’s worth of coal to keep us and future guests warm.
How crazy is that? I felt like I had been transported back to the turn of the 20th century. Coal for heating? No wonder I couldn’t breathe in this city!