The other evening Y-H-B was perched on a bar stool in the tavern of his Vermont Stammlokal, The Dorset Inn, when the conversation with the bartender, the redoubtable Patrick Honan, turned to one’s “taking the bull by the horns,” “leaving no stone unturned,” etc., in seeking a job in the Northshires by a retired college professor (alias Y-H-B), when the Russian proverb “под лежачий камень вода не течет” swam into my head. The literal meaning of the Russian original is “water does not flow beneath a recumbent stone.” It is used paroemically to mean something like “without effort, no result will ensue.”

Now, there are a number of ways of expressing this meaning, but the point being urged here is to assert that the meaning one seeks to express always already preexists its articulation by the speaker. Once the speaker forms the intention of articulating it, this is possible only because there already exists the semiotic web in which the meaning is embedded in its most general form, so that the linguistic clothes the particular semantic content wears on any given occasion is entirely dependent on the inventory of locutions in the speaker’s wardrobe.