This blog is for everyone who uses words.

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

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Nuts and Bolts - working words.

There are some words that nearly everyone understands (NO!) and some words that very few people understand (FETTLING*).

And there are some words NO ONE AT ALL understands. (And I don't just mean nonsense words like MIBBLE and TOVE.).

For instance, if I told you my mug was quite empty, how full would it be? No one can be sure.

Or, as another example, have you ever had that awkward conversation when you've been ill and someone asks you if you're better, and you end up saying, I'm better, but I'm not better?

Words like this, that mean themselves and something pretty much the opposite as well, are called contranyms.

Can you think of another one?

A CLUE: think of prunes!

*Stuff used to line the hearth of puddling furnaces, apparently.


  1. My word challenge: to make sure my every comment on this blog is related to football...

    The headline 'Arsene Wenger resigns' (or any other manager, player or football official) gave me a horrible shock a few months ago. But he didn't leave his position, he'd actually decided to stay longer. Hyphens are being used less and less often in the English language with the result that the word 're-sign' often looks identical to the word 'resign'. Maybe it's not a proper opposite but it certainly gives the opposite impression.

    Still thinking about the prunes...

  2. The prune conundrum is revealed at the end of my post KING JAMES AND ME, Sophie. I'm afraid I'm a very new blogger, and have still to work out how to do links and all that sort of thing.

    I love your contranym - that's a new one for me, hurray!
    An Arsenal supporter, eh?
    Show off!

  3. 'With' is another contranym. We fought with the Americans at Bunker Hill, but we also fought with them on the beaches of Normandy.

  4. "Arguably" and "unarguably" seem to have rather muddled meanings, as in "She is arguably the best actress of her generation" and "She is unarguably the best actress of her generation". The second conveys more certainty - but in the first, you'd be arguing FOR her (whoever she is) to deserve this accolade, while in the second you're saying that no one could argue AGAINST. But in typing this I think I've sorted it out for myself, so please ignore. And Sally, please notice that I've started a sentence with But! Like you, I don't see why on earth I shouldn't.

  5. I love the "fight with" one, Charlie! Isn't that just perfect?

    And Linda - sometimes it seems that the more I think about words the hazier they become. Welcome to The Word Den - a place for play and discovery. And it's lovely to hear from you.

  6. I am very fond of 'cleave' and 'buckle' on the contranym front - both meaning joining together and making stronger as well as somehow also meaning splitting and weakening.

  7. Good heavens! Sometimes I think that the more one thinks about words, the richer and trickier it gets!


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