[Milton-L] language question

bberry at mail1.vcu.edu bberry at mail1.vcu.edu
Sat Feb 11 11:06:21 EST 2006

Emulate woule be qnother.

Boyd Berry

> Anita Sherman writes:
>     Please help me remember what (I think) I once knew.  What is 
>     it about the evolution of the English language that results 
>     in certain words--e.g. "cleave"--having antithetical 
>     meanings?  Is there a term of art for these kinds of words?
> Others have already commented on the process by which _cleave_ 
> came to have apparently opposite meanings.  Some arise from two 
> roots; some have senses that separate and then end up being 
> contrary -- _sanction_, for instance, which can mean to permit or 
> to punish.
> Other examples, more or less satisfying, are "clip" (to attach or 
> to separate), "screen" (to hide or to display), "cork" (to remove 
> a cork or to insert a cork), "fast" (moving quickly or not moving 
> at all), "quite" (slightly or completely), "to dust" (to remove 
> dust or to add dust) and "oversight" (careful inspection or 
> careless inattention).  If you expand your boundaries, you can 
> admit things like "bad" (which in some slang usages can mean 
> good) and "citation" (which can recognize either a good or a bad 
> deed), as well as words like "rent" (which can be applied to 
> either party in the transaction), though these are kinda iffy.
> I don't know whether linguists have a serious term, but 
> logophiles sometimes call such words "contronyms" (sometimes 
> spelled "contranyms") or "Janus words."  I've also seen 
> "auto-antonym" and "antagonym."  I don't think any of these 
> terms, though, will be familiar enough to most readers that you 
> could use them without an explanation.

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