I have always been fascinated by words and their meanings, long before I even considered entering the world of writing. I have also been frustrated by words, sometimes while searching for the right word when writing, other times when I’m debating with persons that neither understand rules of logic and debate, nor the definitions of the fifty-dollar words they bandy about in their blissful ignorance.
But I digress…
One genre of words that presses my curiosity button is the “auto-antonym,” also called the “contranym” — a word that has two or more definitions, one which is the opposite, or contradicts, the other. There exist dozens more than listed here, but these are ones that fascinate me.
1. Sanction (verb/noun) can mean “give official permission or approval” or its exact opposite, “impose a penalty.”
The Olympic Board hereby sanctions the previous sanctions on drugged athletes.
2. Oversight (noun) can mean “oversee or supervise” or “overlook, discount, disregard or ignore.”
The Committee has oversight regarding the Senator’s oversight of paying required kickbacks to said Committee.
3. Dust (verb) can mean to add or remove dust.
After I dust the doughnuts, I must dust the counter.
4. Cleave (verb) can mean “to break apart” or “to join.”
Once husband and wive cleave together, let none cleave them apart.
5. Weather (verb/adjective) can mean “to withstand untouched” or “to wear away.”
The Rock of Gibraltar has weathered many a storm, though its south face is severely weathered.
6. Original (adjective) can mean “unchanged since it came into existence” or “never existed before.”
Moving the sculpture from its original place was quite an original idea.
I’m sure there are auto-antonyms, both homographic and homophonic, in almost any language. (Frankly I find learning the basics of foreign languages difficult enough!)
Kudos to those ESL citizens who can correctly use auto-antonyms in the already unbelievably complex English language.
For a future blog- ambigrams!