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Apr 12, 2004
This week's theme

This week's words
A Word A Day
the book A Word A Day: A Romp Through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English "Delightful."
-The New York Times

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with Anu Garg

I call them fence-sitters. They sit on the fences, ready to say one thing or its opposite, depending on which side they appear. I'm not talking about politicians. These are words, known by many names: autoantonym, antagonym, contranym, enantiodromic, amphibolous, Janus word, and so on.

To cleave is to cling or to split? Ravel is to tangle or to untangle? When you sanction a project, do you approve or disapprove of it?

When a proposal is tabled, is it being brought forward for discussion or being laid aside? In this case, it depends on which side of the Atlantic you live. It's the former in UK, the latter in the US.

Should one be commended for oversight (watchful care) or reprimanded for oversight (error or omission)?

When you resign from a job, do you leave it or re-join (re-sign!) it? (OK, that last one was a stretch.)

Sometimes it's a result of two distinct words evolving into the same form (cleave from Old English cleofian and cleofan) but often a single word develops a split personality and takes on two contradictory senses. All of us have a bit of yin and yang and these words are no exception. The context usually provides a clue to help us understand the right sense in a given place. Look for more such words in AWAD this week.


Pronunciation RealAudio

chuffed (chuft) adjective

Pleased; satisfied.

[From English dialect chuff (pleased, puffed, swollen with pride).]

Displeased; annoyed.

[From chuff (boor, churl), from Middle English chuffe.]

"And she was a little chuffed at Elliot's infamous plug for Harvie's SBS screening while accepting his Oscar on stage in Los Angeles."
When Oscar Met Harvie; Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia); Mar 12, 2004.

"The former England midfielder told Sky Sports News, 'We should not have been here, we should have won the game at our place but we're here, we've done well and I'm just chuffed to bits.'"
Millwall Down Tranmere to Set Up Clash With Sunderland in Semi; The Star (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia); Mar 18, 2004.


There is pleasure in the pathless woods, / There is rapture in the lonely shore, / There is society where none intrudes, / By the deep sea, and music in its roar: / I love not man the less, but nature more. -Lord Byron, poet (1788-1824)

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