Antonymous Words
[ Issue 12 ]

Antonymous Words bring Emily Bronto much happiness

Let Bikwil introduce you to Antonymous Words

Antonymous Words

In his language column this time Harlish Goop discusses not only Antonymous Words but also Typewriter Words.

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A Word in Your Pink Shell-like — Harlish Goop


As always, the editor is keen for regular contributors to tidy up all their loose ends. Me he has asked to handle some backlogged bits and pieces that arise, in Bikwil’s typically digressive way, not from earlier Pink Shell-like efforts, but from the first Where Three Ways Meet column (No. 6, March 1998).

‘Ere we go, ‘ere we go . . .

(Speaking of football, I suppose you knew that the word “soccer”, in the 1880s and 90s spelt socca or socker, derives from Assoc., short for Association, as in Association Rules? OED2 implies that it’s a little like “rugger”, from Rugby School. There’s even “footer” too, though this was confined to the England of Brideshead Revisited and decades prior. Australian English, of course, has “footy“.)

Anyway, one thing you will recall is that — except for Frisco cable cars and ducks quacking and reversed Microsoft icons — the Three Ways in question was a potpourri of word trivia, one fragment of which concerned the two antonymous meanings of the verb “cleave” — adhere and separate. Rashly, we stated that “cleave” is the only such contrary word in English.

Well, in the true spirit of “shared pleasure in the seriousness of the apparently trivial miscellaneous”, Bruce Johnson has written in with a few additional examples of words “that pull in opposite directions”. I quote him:

Secrete — both to conceal (“secreted about his person”, in this senses related to “secret” and “secretary”), and to disclose (as in “secreting a fluid”)

Rank — to be of rank implies an exalted position, but, as in “my offence is rank”, implies a degraded status

This next one is cheating with typography:

Apart — implying separation, and a part, implying union.

Interesting, Bruce’s reference to “secretary”. I’d forgotten its original meaning, now obsolete, of “one who is entrusted with private or secret matters”. That meaning, deriving from the mediaeval Latin secretarius, goes back at least to the 14th century. That noun came from post-Augustan Latin adjective secretus, which meant “separated, out of the way, lonely, secret”, and which, in its turn, derived from the Classical Latin verb secernere (= “to sever, sunder, separate”).

While we’re at it, let’s quickly look at the two “cleaves”.

In Old English there were two similar looking, but quite distinct, verbs — clíofan (= “to cut”) and clífan, later clifian (= “to adhere”). By about 1500 the former had become cleve, while the latter, also in the 14th century, had become clive. This “. . . had also the variants cleove, cleve, the latter of which at length prevailed; the two verbs having thus become identical in the present stem were naturally confused in their other inflexions.” (OED2)

All very academic, I know, but it does go a little way to explaining our modern antonymous mystery.

Also in that Three Ways were featured a number of words the touch typist can key on a keyboard with the left hand only, right hand only, alternate hands, feet, nose, etc. Were you as surprised as I was to learn that “typewriter words” hold endless fascination for some compulsive word jugglers? Indeed, there’s at least one Internet site where they thrive in sumptuous profusion — A Collection of Word Oddities and Trivia, maintained by Jeff Miller, a teacher at Gulf High School in New Port Richey, Florida.

It isn’t Bikwil’s policy willy-nilly to pinch the stuff of Net obsessionists (come on, who’s kidding whom here?), so I’ll gingerly extract just a handful of writing-machine extras from Miller’s work, and leave you to seek out the rest in your own time. Seeing that someone will soon come up with more astounding examples, you’ll notice that I for one won’t dare say “longest”, just “long”.

Long, left hand only: Tessaradecads — meaning “groups of fourteen” (though, according to Miller, who quotes Webster2, it’s spelt “tesseradecades”; my spelling is OED2’s).

Long, right hand only: Polyphony.

Long, top alphabetic row only: Proprietor, perpetuity.

Long, middle alphabetic row only: Alfalfas.

Long, alternating hands, two letters at a time: Postmuscular.

By the way, up there I twice used the word “antonymous” (by childlike analogy with “synonymous”), but according to OED2 such a formation doesn’t exist. Nor, for that matter, does “antonymic”. Both, however, are in the Merriam Webster Internet dictionary, and “antonymic” is in Macq3. We await OED3 with great eagerness.

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