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Auto-contradictory words

I’ve long been amused by words that mean their opposite. E.g., “cleave” can mean to cling to or to cut apart. And “dust” can mean to remove dust or, as when dusting for fingerprints, to deposit dust.

Yesterday, an odd almost-example of one occurred to me.

Imagine a mob intent on no good has formed. It’s going to loot and pillage. But a preacher gets their attention. They stop mobbing and start listening. The preacher delivers the greatest anti-violence sermon ever. Afterwards, the crowd reformed.

Yeah, it’s too contextual to make it onto the list of auto-contradictory words (AKA autoantonyms). But I thought I’d mention it. [Tags: ]

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6 Responses to “Auto-contradictory words”

  1. This relates to your example and not so much with your topic of word usage.

    What would happen if groups of people starting getting together into “cells” (i.e. like a “terrorist cell”) to do good (like the cells that comprise your body’s immune system)? Imagine samaritan cells of small groups of people working together with other cells to help people in the wake of the Katrina disaster? What would these people need to work autonomously instead of through a central command center? I’m assuming a communications network (i.e. the Web) that would provide them with information and lots of it. More importantly, they would need the ability to gather this information from different sources (i.e. web services) as well as filter the vast amounts of information so that it could be usable to their locality (even down to their neighborhood).

    The question I’m pondering today is do we have the technology to do this? If so, why isn’t anybody doing this? Is it because no one has had the idea to utilize the existing web services (i.e. Flickr, Google Maps, Technorati, etc) in this way yet (i.e. tagging real life objects and locations, such as a neighborhood or quarter of a city)? If we don’t have the technology today to do this effectively, will the Web 2.0 architecture give us this ability in the future?

  2. Oversight is another autoantonym.

  3. Qualified?

    As in a “qualified answer,” which can be an answer from an authority, or a “hedged” answer that has qualifiers like probably or might.

  4. My favorite is “loosen” and “unloosen” which mean just about the same thing.

    I think Jesus used “could” in the dual sense: He said he spoke in parables so people could hear him but not understand and be damned. I think here by “could” he meant that they had the choice to not understand him if they chose not too. Whereas he spoke plainly to his disciples because they believed in him and so didn’t need that choice. It’s funny that he used the ambiguous statement to cover up his ambiguity. I have a hunch that the “could” and “would” are ambiguous in every language, so it’s a metaphysical ambiguity.

    Another such word is “meaningful”. It can mean “having a meaning” or “having a purpose” which are two different things (or two different words in Lithuanian) but I think it’s not possible to have a word that has only one such meaning but not the other. The word for “meaning” ends up having both meanings.

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