Write the Right

Social media is all about technology. Ultimately though, it’s the words and messages that really make the difference. To that end, here’s some information that caught me by surprise that I think you’ll find interesting.

Words often look alike but have different meanings. Sound alike but have different spellings. Or look the same but sound different. Thanks to this article from Mental Floss, I now know about contronyms . . . words that are their own antonyms.

An example:

Here’s an ambiguous sentence for you: “Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.” Does that mean, ‘Because the agency oversaw the company’s behavior, they imposed a penalty for some transgression’ or does it mean, ‘Because the agency was inattentive, they overlooked the misbehavior and gave it their approval by default’?

The article lists 25 of these gems, but here are just a few:

  • Dust is a noun turned into a verb meaning either to add or to remove the thing in question. Only the context will tell you which it is. When you dust are you applying dust or removing it? It depends whether you’re dusting the crops or the furniture.
    (Remember Amelia Bedelia?)
  • Off means “deactivated,” as in “to turn off,” but also “activated,” as in “The alarm went off.”
  • Go means “to proceed” but also “give out or fail,” as in “This car could really go until it started to go.”

The point is to be sure to choose your words carefully and eliminate any possibility that the message can be confused by a contronym.


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