More Words That Are Their Own Opposites

Contronyms 512px-Young_Woman_ThinkingHmmmm...

Would you eat at a restaurant if you had reservations?

We’ve talked about contronyms, or words that contradict themselves, before (here and here). The past posts racked up an amazing total of 25 self-contradictory words. You wouldn’t think there could be any more, but — tah-dah! —

click here for 16 more contronyms.

 I’m beginning to wonder how communication occurs with so many treacherous words.

Can you come up with any more?

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From Barbecue to Hammocks and Hurricanes: the New World’s First Gifts to English


Caguana Ceremonial Ball Courts Site – Utuado Puerto Rico – By Jbermudez at en.wikipedia from Wikimedia Commons

When Columbus landed in the New World in 1492, the first humans he encountered were the Taino, an Arawak people, then the most numerous group in the Caribbean, inhabiting what are now Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. They were skilled navigators and farmers with complex social systems, art, music, and poetry. But within half a century, diseases brought by the Spanish wiped out most of the Taino population. Traces of their civilization are preserved in words adopted by the Spanish that passed into English and other languages. [more]

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Wayward Words with Meanings That Went Astray


Cheater wearing cheaters? After Reymerswaele/ Wikimedia Commons

People sometimes tell you you’re misusing a word and cite the Latin origin as proof. Don’t fall for the etymological fallacy. What a word means depends, not on its origin, but on how speakers of a language understand it. Over time, words have a way of wandering and meanings mutate. If you stuck with older meanings of the following words, you could end up in a strange land where “naughty” is the same as “nice” and “awesome” means “terrible.”  More…

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Fruitful Expressions or Why There Are No Plums in Plum Pudding

From sweet lemons to sour grapes, the fleshy, edible, seed-bearing parts of plants are a fruitful source of terms and phrases.

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“Fruit Dreams” by Judith B. Herman

Pick a juicy crop here.

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Jazz, Blues & Babes: The Latest Words from 1915


 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Terms that first appeared in print in 1915 reveal something about life a hundred years ago. Although the war in Europe left its mark on the lexicon, there are also signs of the changing times in arts and culture.

See some surprising 100-year-old words here.

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The Biggest Mystery about English Crime Shows: British Legal Terms You Meant to Look Up

Love British courtroom dramas like “Rumpole of the Bailey,” “Kavanaugh, QC” and “Silk” but a bit muddled on the difference between a silk and a stipe? Get your ducks in a row here. (Thanks to former London solicitor Dana F. Barraclough for assistance on this post.)

BarristerPhoto: Wikimedia Commons SouthbankSteve


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Spanish Surnames That Reveal Family History

A Barbero is a barber, but a Cantero is not a cantor. Do you know what the ancestors of people named Ballestero and Verdugo did? Find out here.

 Spanish surnames 512px-Varlet_or_Squire_carrying_a_Halberd_with_a_thick_Blade_and_Archer_in_Fighting_Dress_drawing_the_String_of_his_Crossbow_with_a_double_handled_WinchSource

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Decoding British Pub Menus

pub 502px-The_Queens_Arms_pub_-_Charlotte_Street_-_Birmingham_-_2005-10-14

Photo  Source

Fancy a pudding wine? How about jugged hare and a side of rocket and baps? Bit of a muddle? No worries, luv. This glossary will set you right:

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Some Occupations You’ve Never Heard of Revealed in English Surnames

It’s easy to guess what an ancestor of someone named Cook, Carpenter, or Smith did for a living. With other occupational surnames, though, either the word or the trade has become obsolete, so the meaning is hidden. Can you guess what a forbisher or a kisser did?

What surnames would you dream up based on present-day occupations?

Here’s the original Webster: Wikimedia Commons: Common garden spider, underside, spinning web. source:me {{GFDL}}

spider Araneus_diadematus_underside_1

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Is This Trio of Words the Longest English Homonym?

These word pairs (and one trio) are identical, but not twins or triplets. Like the mythical doppelgangers, they were born at different times and places. Continue readingPeriwinkle_3“Periwinkle 3” by Mokkie

periwinkle 640px-Littorina_littorea_02“Littorina littorea 02” by H. Zell –

Periwinkle Rosalba_Carriera_-_A_Gentleman_in_a_Gold_Patterned_Coat_and_Violet-Brown_Cape_(ca._1727)_-_Google_Art_ProjectRosalba Carriera [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Periwig/Periwinkle

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