Sunday, May 04, 2014

Double Meaning

English is a confusing language, and no more so than in the use of contranyms - words that have meanings that are the opposite of each other. Wordsmith Ben Zimmer ruminates about the dual use of "sanction":
we are supposed to understand the verb "sanction" to mean "to impose a heavy penalty on," even though it can also mean "to authorize or encourage by approval."
IMHO, I think writers should avoid contranyms because they disrupt the flow of the piece; the reader must take a break to search the sentences before and after sanction, for example, to decipher which meaning the author intended.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if words like sanction were sanctioned? Now that would be sick.

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