[Milton-L] language question

John Leonard jleonard at uwo.ca
Sat Feb 11 12:05:01 EST 2006


"Contranyms" or "antagonisms" are very frequent in Milton, who often plays 
the opposed senses against each other.   One of my favourite examples 
(really two examples) is this:

                            and with a vengeance sent
    From Media post to Egypt, there fast bound. (PL 4.170-1)

where the sense of confinement in "fast bound" is all the more arresting for 
the aggressively denied alternative senses of both words.  Another memorable 
instance is "fierce hosting" in the war in heaven:

                                    strange to us it seemed
    At first, that angel should with angel war,
    And in fierce hosting meet, who wont to meet
    So oft in festivals of joy and love
    Unanimous

where "hosting" means both "hostile encounter" and "hospitable reception," 
and so anticipates the gunners' puns but, coming from Raphael's lips, 
captures the wonder and dismay of an angel who really does hanker after the 
violated innocent sense.  There are numerous other examples, and I have an 
essay on the topic in the Blackwell Companion, with the pedestrian title 
"Milton's Self-Contradicting Puns." Christopher Ricks has coined the term 
"anti-pun" to describe things like this (see his The Force of Poetry, 1984). 
Ricks has also written about Clarendon's use of the same device.

John Leonard

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <bberry at mail1.vcu.edu>
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Cc: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Saturday, February 11, 2006 11:06 AM
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] language question


> -------------------
> 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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