This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Word To Use Today: chine.

Chine is one of those lovely words which can mean two opposite things.

English has a few examples of these contranyms, like quite (how full is quite full?) and cleave (cut apart or cling together?) that I think of as the sherbert of the English language - fizzy and fun, but seldom appearing in the diet.

Chine is a beautiful word, like the far-away ringing of a temple bell. In fact it sounds so much like the far-away ringing of a temple bell that it can be used as another word for chime.

It's used in boat-building, too. In this case it means the place where the sides of the boat curve round to form the bottom.

Chine's main meaning, though, is backbone. It's used to describe cuts of meat, but it's also used to describe a long ridge of land.

But how does this make chine a contranym? Well, of course it doesn't, until you know that in Southern England a chine is a deep crack in the wall of a cliff.

This is Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight.

So there you are: a backbone-like ridge and a deep gully.

And, echoing across the landscape, the chine-tingling tolling of a bell...

Word To Use Today: chine. The word meaning backbone comes from the Old French eschine, and before that it was connected with the Old High German scina, which means needle or shin. The word meaning fissure comes from the Old English cīnan, to crack.

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