Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sometimes opposites mean the same thing

(Thanks to Tyge and Levi for their additions to the first version of this blog post. More additions are welcome. But please skip slang like "bad" meaning "good.")

I've long been intrigued by English words that are often opposites, but can have identical meanings.

  • "After our number is called, we can move UP to the front of the line" (or DOWN to the front of the line)
  • "Please slow UP -- I can't run as fast as you can" (or slow DOWN)
  • If your house burns UP, it really burns DOWN
  • Please fill IN the application (or fill OUT)
  • The HOTTEST new computer can also be the COOLEST new computer
  • SLIM chance and FAT chance mean the same thing
There are also individual words that can have different implications.
  • "He was CITED for bravery." (good) "He was CITED for being drunk on duty." (bad)
  • A WISE man and a WISE guy are completely different.
And individual words that can have opposite meanings.
  • "Inflammable" can mean a substance that can burn, or can't burn. Sometimes the Latin prefix "in" (also "em" and "im") means pretty much the same thing as the English "in." An inflamed arm is hot and red, i.e, as if it is "in flames." However, the Latin prefix "in" often means "not," as in "incredible," "insufficient," and "inimicable"
And words that can be compliments or criticisms.
  • "Lightweight" is good for a portable PC, but bad for someone who wants a job as a professor or sales manager.
In an online discussion yesterday, someone said that his company works "OUT of the Atlanta area." While this is a hillbillyism meaning that the company is based in the Atlanta area, the meaning would be pretty much the same if he said the company works IN the Atlanta area.

And, of course, we can DRIVE on a PARKWAY and PARK on a DRIVEWAY.

(Cars parked in my driveway, before I traded the two Chryslers for a Honda Crosstour last month. I still have the Fiat. The parkway is behind the trees in the background.)


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