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AWADmail Issue 471

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

Gibberish or Evolution? OMG, xprts r all cybr tok is koo
Toronto Star

Teens texting bring back languages from the edge of extinction

From: Cyril Duff (cyrilduff aol.com)
Subject: Ravel
Def: 1. To fray or to become disjoined; to untangle. 2. To entangle or to become tangled.

I was first introduced to "ravel" as a schoolboy in Dublin nearly 70 years ago by my English master. He quoted Shakespeare, Macbeth, act 2 scene 1; "The innocent sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care." I thought it was a wonderful image -- and still do.

Cyril Duff, London, UK

From: Eileen Baxter (ebax pcez.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ravel

Several years ago, an enterprising and clever young couple developed a website called Ravelry. It is devoted to the needle arts, primarily knitting and crocheting -- think Facebook for knitters. You can post pix of completed projects, inventory yarns and books, discuss projects, yarns and even non-yarny things. I think it's interesting since many knitters have had to unravel tangles that this is the name they came up with. Thousands of knitters revel in Ravelry, and don't know how they managed without it.

Eileen Baxter, Portland, Oregon

Email of the Week - (Brought to you by One Up! - Are you wicked/smart?)

From: Hillary Rettig (superhillary yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ravel

A productive form of raveling would be weaving, where the "tangles" are used to create a strong and useful fabric. This also works at the societal level: see, for instance, George Eliot's wondrous novel Silas Marner, in which the eponymous hero, who has bitterly isolated himself owing to a betrayal, is reintegrated into society after he adopts a child. As it happens, he is a weaver, and the town the story is set in is Raveloe.

Hillary Rettig, Boston, Massachusetts

From: Sandria Parsons (sparsons moving2mastery.org)
Subject: Avocation
Def: 1. One's regular job or occupation. 2. An activity taken up besides the regular work; a hobby.

This section of a poem by Robert Frost says it like it is for me:

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.
(from Two Tramps in Mud Time)

Sandria Parsons, Marion, Massachusetts

From: Stuart Showalter (showalter.stuart gmail.com)
Subject: Inure
Def: verb tr.: To accustom to something unpleasant. verb intr.: 1. To become beneficial. 2. To take effect.

I was glad to see that your definition of inure included the intransitive meanings: "to become beneficial" and "to take effect". In US law an organization may qualify for tax exemption if "no part of [its] net earnings ... inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual." This provision confuses some readers because dictionaries often list only the transitive meaning ("to accustom or harden"). As my Shorter OED notes, the legal meaning more closely approximates "to accrue".

Stuart Showalter, Atlanta, Georgia

From: Christel Haag (christel_haag hotmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ravel

An example of confusion caused by different meanings of a word was told us last week by our travel guide in Ecuador. When, at a rafting tour, the boat had overturned and one of the tourists asked the guide what he should do, the guide answered: "Nada!". In Spanish "nada" means either "nothing" or is the imperative form of "swim".

Christel Haag, Bento Gonçalves, Brazil

From: Elizabeth Buchen (esbuchen gmail.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ravel

Along the lines of your "table a proposal" example -- I was confused during our last state legislative session when a lobbyist friend said happily, "Our bill was dropped!" I would have thought dropped meant killed, but apparently it's quite the opposite -- the bill was introduced.

Elizabeth Buchen, Albuquerque, New Mexico

From: Sue McLaren (twenty4pawsmoreorless gmail.com)
Subject: Opposites

This week's theme reminds me of the many times my English-born husband and I, American-born, would discuss which was the inside lane and which the outside lane, on a divided highway. And whether one fills in a form, or fills out a form. Never finding a resolution, we would resort to "that lane", and to "complete" a form.

Sue McLaren, Kimberton, Pennsylvania

From: Morton Sosland (MSosland sosland.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--adjure

This week's focus on contranyms reminded me of a true experience. I called upon an English food executive who expressed great pleasure with a report he had just had from an American executive of his company about the effort to introduce an English food product to the US market. "He said it went off like a bomb," the Englishman said in repeating what he had been told and voicing his delight. I then asked him to tell me exactly what the American had said and the executive replied, "He said the product had bombed." I then had the difficult task of explaining that this meant the product had not been accepted and was a failure, not a rip-roaring success. I've often used this as an example of our being two people separated by a common language.

Morton Sosland, Kansas City, Missouri

From: BM (yahoo.com)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--ravel

"This week we've picked five such words. Each of these words has meanings as different as black and white. Call them contranyms, heteronyms, janus words, two-faced words, words with split personalities, or coin your own word."

How about schizophrenisms?

BM, Paradise, California

[See AWADmail Issue 472 for an update]

From: Niko Schafer (scha0747 umn.edu)
Subject: Re: contranyms

In a linguistics class several years ago we called these antagonyms, cleave being the prototypical example. Like cleave, most relied on at least one archaic, colloquial, or specialized meaning to complete the opposition.

Niko Schafer, Rochester, Minnesota

From: John Hughes (jfhext gmail.com)
Subject: Contranyms

I suppose it could now be considered politically incorrect, but one of my colleagues suggested years ago that the ultimate contranym is "impregnable".

John Hughes, Providence, Rhode Island

From: Ruth Abraham (ruthab netvision.net.il)
Subject: this week's words

What a lovely theme, words with opposite meanings. I am a psychologist and writer, and in both places of "work", I deal with ambivalence. Sometimes it is so striking that the patient thinks they are saying one thing, when imbued in the word, is quite another. I wrote a story in which a woman mourns her unfulfilling marriage after the death of her husband. She finds an old picture of them in their youth, cuts out the two figures, and sews them together. I wanted to remarry them, she says. But then she sees that the stitching which is supposed to unite them more closely, actually serves as a barrier between them. I called the story "Cleaving". I loved the fact that there exists a word that so perfectly describes both experiences at the same time. Thanks for your wonderful, colorful, playful, enriching site.

Ruth Abraham, Herzlia Pituach, Israel

From: Dan Klein (dklein 21st-strategies.com)
Subject: Contranym: Biweekly

1: occurring twice a week
2: occurring once every two weeks

So if my boss offers to pay me $1000 biweekly, am I a six-figure employee, or just above the poverty level?

Dan Klein, McLean, Virginia

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. -Anton Chekhov, short-story writer and dramatist (1860-1904)

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