Pre-Order Your Copy

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078KVZVYX

EPUB: https://www.books2read.com/u/49PXPp

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Janus Effect

One of the factors that makes writing difficult is the uncanny ability of the English language to be filled with words that mean completely contradictory things. If I DRAW the curtains, am I opening or closing them? I can CLEAVE two pieces together or separate them with a meat cleaver. When you DUST, you could be adding particles, as in dusting crops; or removing them, as in dusting furniture. One might be an UNQUALIFIED success, which is very good; or UNQUALIFIED, meaning lacking any qualifications, which is not good at all.

You can SECURE something from someone, which means taking it; or SECURE something to prevent anyone from taking it. A FIX can be a predicament or the solution to one. OFF can mean deactivated, as in turning OFF the light; or activated, as in the alarm went OFF. When you SEED a lawn you’re adding to it, but when you SEED fruit, you’re taking something out of it.

Any chef will tell you to GARNISH means to add something, but a lawyer will say GARNISH means the court will be taking away your wages. If the court ENJOINS you, it may be directing you to do something or forbidding you from doing it. It could also SANCTION you, which means allow you to do something, or punish you for having done it. STAY can mean to continue or to postpone.

OVERSIGHT can refer to a watchful eye; or an inadvertent error. ROCK can be used to show firmness (“solid as a rock”), or conversely, swaying motion (“the waves rocked the ship”). SCREEN can mean conceal or display. SPARE can mean meager or extra. OVERLOOK can mean to inspect, or to miss something during an inspection.

If you TRIM a cake, you’re adding decorations; but TRIM a tree and you’re removing part of it. If you WEATHERED a storm, you came through safely and are looking good; but a building that was WEATHERED is worn away. One who is LEFT might be remaining or departed. RESIGN can mean to quit or sign up again. CLIP can mean to attach or separate. CULL may mean to select or reject. If something holds FAST, then it’s not going anywhere; but if one is FAST, he is moving quickly. If a project is a GO, then things move forward; but when your old car starts to GO, it will come to a halt.

And you thought being a writer was easy. These types of words are called contronyms because they’re so darn contrary. They’re also called auto-antonyms since one word means the opposite of itself, and more colloquially, Janus words – Janus, you may recall, was the two-faced Roman God of beginnings and transitions, simultaneously looking in opposite directions. The beginning of the year, January, is named for Janus, which makes today’s New Year’s day blog post all the more fitting. Happy New Year!

No comments:

Post a Comment