Wordsmith.org: the magic of words


About | Media | Search | Contact  


Today's Word

Yesterday's Word



AWADmail Issue 519

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

Sponsor's message: This week's Email of the Week is from Tony Augarde (see below), who will get any Oneupmanship product his heart desires -- and FREE SHIPPING if he asks nicely.

From: Peirce Hammond (peirce_hammond ed.gov)
Subject: Contrapuntalisms, made for enjoin'
Def: 1. To order or prescribe a course of action. 2. To forbid or restrain.

And sometimes they have a third meaning: "I enjoin you to be enjoin' this one ..." Think of this additional meaning as a "contrapuntalnym" -- those meanings of a word inspired by the first pair of meanings. (And notice the hidden word in contrapuntalism that is revealed by peeling back the first and last six letters thereof.)

Peirce Hammond, Bethesda, Maryland

From: Phil Graham (limericist cox.net)
Subject: Liege
Def: 1. A feudal lord. 2. A vassal or subject.

I love AWAD, not only for the words which are new to me but also because I often learn that words have additional meanings previously unknown to me. That "liege" can be used to mean both a ruler and one ruled-over was an epiphany and it reminded me of one of my limericks:

An old queen from Denmark named Jane,
In her reign suffered serfs with no pain.
When they'd visit their liege
She'd use noblesse oblige,
Which gave us the phrase "The Great Deign".

The Limericist, aka Phil Graham, Tulsa, Oklahoma

From: Nancy Gill (njgill cox.net)
Subject: liege

You missed the perfect tie-in for this Diamond Jubilee week -- when Her Majesty was crowned back in 1953, this is how Prince Philip acknowledged her new status as his sovereign (as well as his wife):

...the Duke of Edinburgh shall ascend the steps of the Throne, and having taken off his coronet, shall kneel down before her Majesty, and placing his hands between the Queen's shall pronounce the words of Homage, saying:

I, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh do become your liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship; and faith and truth will I bear unto you, to live and die, against all manner of folks. So help me God.

And arising, he shall touch the Crown upon her Majesty's head and kiss her Majesty's left cheek.

More here.

Nancy Gill, Phoenix, Arizona

From: Gary Muldoon (gmuldoon muldoongetz.com)
Subject: nickel and dime
Def: 1. To drain gradually: for example, by many charges for small amounts. 2. To accumulate gradually.

If this term was coined in 1879, not too much later a similar term made its way into the language: the five-and-ten or five-and-dime store, a term associated with F.W. Woolworth. Originally, at least, it did not have a pejorative connotation. Nowadays, "dollar stores" seem ubiquitous in the US.

Gary Muldoon, Fairport, New York

From: Amy Rosen (amyerosen gmail.com)
Subject: nickel and dime

I grew up playing dominoes, and when an opponent made several five and/or ten point plays, you'd complain that he was nickel and diming you (implying that he was taking cheap shots). Of course, when it was you making the five and ten point plays, you'd brag that you were going to nickel and dime your way to a win.

Amy Rosen, Houston, Texas

From: Tom Hawley (t.hawley comcast.net)
Subject: Coin Trivia

You say "Nickel (five cents) and dime (ten cents) are nicknames of the coins ..."

Dime may be the "nickname" of of the US 10¢ piece, but I think it's also the official name. The US dime says "One Dime" on it while the Canadian dime says "10 cents" on it.

Tom Hawley, Lansing, Michigan

From: Janet Weeks (jan.weeks owp.csus.edu)
Subject: Cull
Def: 1. To select the best. 2. To select inferior items for removing. 3. To reduce the size of a herd.

Cull: A euphemism animal agriculture and animal "conservation" groups often use to mean kill.

Janet Weeks, Sacramento, California

Email of the Week brought to you by Oneupmanship -- Playing mind games is wicked fun!

From: Tony Augarde (diddlums gmail.com)
Subject: Words with opposing meanings

Words with opposing meanings are also known as autantonyms, antagonyms or even Janus words (from the notoriously two-faced deity of Roman myth). For example, cleave can mean to split apart as well as to knit together, while quite can mean moderately as well as completely, and sanction can indicate allowing something as well as refusing to countenance it (the latter sense being clear in the Peace Pledge Union's historic pledge: "I renounce war, and will never support or sanction another").

In his Spoonerisms, Sycophants, and Sops (1988), D.C. Black listed several other contronyms, such as scan, let, moot, wound up, and commencement. If you lease or rent a house, are you occupying it or letting someone else occupy it? If you trip, have you stumbled or are you walking gracefully? If you screen a film, you show it, but if you screen a garden shed, you hide it. If the stars are out, you can see them, but if lights are out, you cannot see them. Does literally mean precisely or is it being used merely for emphasis without being literally true (as in "They were literally killing themselves laughing")?

Phrases, too, can have opposite senses. First-degree murder is the most serious kind of slaughter, but first-degree burns are the least serious. The opposing senses of dispense with were presumably not noticed by the pharmacist who advertised that he "dispensed with accuracy".

Nowadays, if you say you are going to take care of somebody, it may suggest that you are going to kill them rather than care for them. The phrase 'waste no time' can mean that you are eager to start something, but that was not the intention when someone (was it Disraeli?) wrote: "Thank you for your manuscript. I shall waste no time in reading it". My favourite such phrase is with respect, which is often used in conversation or interviews to imply that the speaker has little or no respect for the person addressed!

This is an extract from my new book, Wordplay.

Tony Augarde, Oxfordshire, UK

From: Albert Van Der Hem (albert blix-bv.com)
Subject: cleave - klieven - kleven

About the opposite meanings of "cleave" in English. In Dutch they certainly have not. Although the difference is difficult to hear for a foreigner, for a Dutchman the meanings of "kleven" (to stick) and "klieven" (to split) is absolutely clear.

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. -George Orwell, writer (1903-1950)

We need your help

Help us continue to spread the magic of words to readers everywhere


Subscriber Services
Awards | Stats | Links | Privacy Policy
Contribute | Advertise

© 1994-2023 Wordsmith