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AWADmail Issue 560A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Tidbits about Words and Language
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From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
From: David Millstone (david.millstone valley.net)
Subject: hôte & contranyms
> In French, the word hôte can mean either host or guest.
The Greek language presents a similar dual meaning in the word xénos, which can mean foreigner or stranger as well as guest-friend. The Greek gods frequently traveled in human guise on earth, and it was Zeus's expectation that strangers be greeted hospitably. Going about disguised as a mortal was one way of conducting clandestine inspection tours, an ancient version of the mystery shopper.
Only after you had welcomed guests appropriately was it considered polite to ask about their business. To pick just one example, when Odysseus arrives at the land of the Phaeacians, he is brought into the court and treated to food and drink for several days before he is asked, "Who are you? Why are you here?"
During a lengthy study of The Odyssey with my fifth-graders, one year in a mock trial, Odysseus was charged with criminal neglect in the cave of the Cyclops. The prosecution argued that his actions in entering the cave despite the misgivings of his sailors and his subsequent boast after blinding Polyphemus were actions that led to the death of all the others on his ship; the defense countered -- successfully-- that Odysseus had every reason to expect to be treated hospitably, and one of the star witnesses called by the defense was Zeus himself.
These dual root meanings of xenos can be found today in such disparate uses as xenophobia (fear of strangers) and Xenia, Ohio, the "City of Hospitality".
David Millstone, Lebanon, New Hampshire
From: Giuluio Cesare Cassani (gcasmarina aol.com)
In Italian "ospite" works the same way, it can be host or guest. Then in English there is the word host to indicate the communion wafer, except that the original Latin hostia (a sacrificial victim) is misunderstood to mean ospite.
Giuluio Cesare Cassani, Menlo Park, California
From: Andrew Kay (awad wildruby.co.uk)
Another contranym is "scan" which contains meanings (amongst others) "scrutinise" and "glance over" -- oddly enough, both similar to "peruse".
Andrew Kay, Oxford, UK
From: Sherill Anderson (clintonsherill hotmail.com)
This is not an exact quotation. In one of George Carlin's routines he talked about how his mother "turned him on" to words when he was a child. She was reading the newspaper and said she would peruse it. The next day he asked her if she was going to peruse it again. She said, "No, but I might give it a cursory glance."
Sherill Anderson, Seattle, Washington
From: Sheldon S. Burnston (brbart1213 aol.com)
I have seen "impregnable" used in the double sense of both definitions. As a teacher, my colleagues and I used to wonder at the eternal optimism of young people. The comment was, "they think they are invulnerable, immortal, and impregnable." Too many of my inner-city students found out, to their dismay, that none of these applied.
Sheldon S. Burnston, Haworth, New Jersey
From: Jef Rempel (bodean shaw.ca)
Chatting recently with a local university radio host I hit upon an idea for a show. Programmers would have to be able to make a direct link from one song to the next via personnel, writing credits, or some other logical but not necessarily obvious connection. Not that hard to do within a single genre, but interesting and fun when songs are seemingly unrelated. One great example of a huge swing would be Pierre Boulez to Frank Zappa. This would challenge programmers and listeners alike to find the discursive lineage in a discursive lineage. The name of the show: Discursive "The more you love music, the more music you love."
Jef Rempel, Winnipeg, Canada
From: Ned Zimmerman (nzimmerman sric.net)
My brother is a collector of grandfather clocks. They have a counterclockwise winding mechanism. So when he winds them he tells me he is engaged in an exercise that is both clockwise (clock-related) and counterclockwise (directional). Not quite a contranym, to be sure: just an activity that he feels can be deemed both clockwise and counterclockwise.
Ned Zimmerman, New York, New York
From: Tali Avishay-Arbel (tal_miqa zahav.net.il)
The Hebrew language is also known for double-meaning roots. Two examples: a. "Lehashrish - Lesharesh". Both come from the root "Shoresh" meaning root; the first means to plant, the second means to uproot. b. "Kdosha - Kdesha". Both come from the root "Kadosh" meaning holy; the first is the feminine form of the adjective "holy", the second means a pro stitute attached to a pagan place of worship.
Tali Avishay-Arbel, Jerusalem, Israel
From: Tony Augarde (diddlums gmail.com)
I call them contronyms, but what's a vowel here or there? My book Wordplay includes a quiz about contr-thingummies which AWAD readers may like to try:
Try to identify these contronyms from the clues given to their opposing meanings.
Answers to Quiz
Tony Augarde, Oxfordshire, UK
From: Col (Ret) John R. Combs (jmrcombs comcast.net)
When I was an US Army officer assigned to SHAPE Headquarters in Belgium working for NATO, I worked for a British Naval Captain. We had a lot of fun with the various unique terms and phrases (whilst, thence, and "unwelcome consequences" to name a few) and we also had to deal with spelling variations (endeavour, honour, colour, prioritization (with the "zed" vice the "s", found in the Oxford Dictionary (which NATO used vice the "American" Dictionary).
One day we were reviewing a speech my British boss was preparing for our senior officer "the SACEUR" (Supreme Allied Commander Europe) and I was asked to review same. One paragraph contained the sentence "We intend to table that issue at our next meeting." Knowing the issue was one that the SACEUR did NOT want to bring up, I questioned the use of "to table". My British boss and I had a friendly but lengthy "discussion" on what "to table" meant.
He held that "to table" in British Parliamentary procedures was to PUT ON THE AGENDA wherein I countered that in US Parliamentary procedures "to table" meant TO TAKE OFF THE AGENDA or to DELAY TAKING ACTION.
After several calls to the writers of the Oxford Dictionary and Webster Dictionary we discovered that the term "to table" had the exact opposite meaning in the two parliamentary procedures contexts. The only rationale (not sure if this is correct) was that in Britain the Prime Minister speaks in front of a long table with the mace of authority lying on it. So to bring a subject up it was brought to the table directly in front of the Prime Minister and laid down for action. In the US, many legislature halls, have the table (or shelf) at the rear of the room and to delay or remove from the agenda is to put the paper at the back of the room "on the table/shelf".
Col (Ret) John R. Combs, Colorado Springs, Colorado
From: Richard Vitkay (rsvitkay mac.com)
We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature's inexhaustible sources of energy -- sun, wind and tide. ... I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. -Thomas Edison, inventor (1847-1931)
Here's an interesting article on the subject from The New York Times.
Richard Vitkay, Albany, New York
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. -George Orwell, writer (1903-1950)