Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

Why?

How come Peter Paul doesn’t combine the best of both worlds and offer a candy bar with the nuts of the Almond Joy and the dark chocolate of Mounds? Even if it was only one month a year, a special seasonal offering. Think about it, Peter Paul, take your worst sales month, and offer a special limited time dark chocolate Almond Joy during that period. You would see a serious increase in sales, Peter Paul. You would make many people happy and you would make more money. Peter Paul, this could be the best of both worlds in so many ways. Paradise on earth is practically within reach.

Also, why is the flatter of the two candy bars you produce called Mounds? That mystifies and sometimes confuses me, Peter Paul.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lines of the Week (or Month)(or even Season at the Rate I’m Posting)

“Had anybody in the history of St. Paul ever had a positive experience with a roofer?”

&

“She really was a very patient girl, she had the metabolism of a fish in winter.”

—from Jonathan Franzen’s story, “Good Neighbors,” in the July 8 & 15 issue of The New Yorker

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Monday, July 6, 2009

Contronyms

Last year I wrote about a non-word, aibohphobia, that I thought should be a word. Now I’ve got a much more practical non-term that is deserving of word status. A contronym is a word that is it own opposite. I have also seen these words referred to as antagonyms, auto-antonyms, and Janus words. Wikipedia even traces the use of contronym back to 1962.

I become most vividly aware of these words while teaching the short story, “The Guest” by Albert Camus. Before the kids even read the story, I point out that it was originally written in French, and that the original title is “L’hote,” a word that means not only guest, but also host. It’s a fine opportunity to point out the decisions translators must make, but the contradiction in the title also reflects the paradoxes and reversals of the story. It seems to me a clear case of a writer using ambiguity deliberately to increase the complexity of his story.

Many kids blurt out that it’s stupid to have a word mean its opposite and see it as a shortcoming of the French language, but I point out that we have many words like this in English, words such as

bolt
bound
cleave
clip
enjoin
fast
grade
handicap
trim
weather.

A more complete list can be found at this site.

As a side note, it’s interesting to me how many of these mean to attach or cling in one form and to separate or move in their other form. Perhaps an etymologist could explain why that is.

Slang also takes advantage of contranyms. Bad can mean good as well as something negative, and my students these days are quick to use sick when talking about really impressive things. It also makes me wonder if there is a term for when you use two different words that seem to be opposites for the same purpose. For example, something really appealing can be cool or hot.