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word puzzle - Blather, Rinse, Repeat
November 1st, 2007
09:18 am

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word puzzle
Ok, if you're a regular listener to "Says You!", you should recuse yourself.

Everybody else: can you think of a one-word oxymoron? That is, a single word that within its own definition, contradicts itself? I'm not looking for a word like "cleave", "let" or "sanction", which have different senses which are more or less contradictory.

Says You had one, which is good, but I've got my own. Come up with either, both, or one of your own and win a... gold star, I guess. Something.


You have, let's say, a day. Go.

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From:weatherguy2000
Date:November 1st, 2007 04:38 pm (UTC)
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dust
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From:tsmaster
Date:November 1st, 2007 04:51 pm (UTC)
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Well, I can see how that has two separate senses nearly contradictory - one sense meaning to remove residue from an item, and one sense meaning that same residue. (Which puts it in the same category as cooking terms 'boned' and 'shelled' - does that mean that the inedible parts have been removed? And not far from the confusing to American-English speakers 'inflammable'.)

But can you make a case that "dust" has a definition that contradicts that same definition?
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From:weatherguy2000
Date:November 1st, 2007 04:59 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure what you mean, but what you said is what I mean about the adding residue and removing residue: "I dusted the table after he dusted it with flour". So you're saying that "boned" actually means "deboned" and shelled means "deshelled"?

There's "irregardless", if that's a word.
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From:tsmaster
Date:November 1st, 2007 05:11 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, adding and removing residue would be separate definitions:

"CSI Duquesne dusted the room for prints, but the maid had used bleach when she had done her job of dusting the room earlier that day, so no evidence was found."

I would contend that "boned" has two different definitions, one which means "with the bones removed" and one which means "with the bones still attached". I expect that chefs prefer one over the other, which makes that word a little less ambiguous, but for folks that don't make a living preparing food, the words "bone-in" and "deboned" remove that ambiguity.


So, right. That's not what the original puzzle is about. Both of the words that I'm thinking of have definitions that, the more literally or strictly you think about them, the more they contradict the common use of the term.

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From:ginsu
Date:November 1st, 2007 05:55 pm (UTC)
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I would contend that "boned" has two different definitions, one which means "with the bones removed" and one which means "with the bones still attached"

There's a third, also, in which a bone is actually being added.
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From:tsmaster
Date:November 1st, 2007 06:04 pm (UTC)
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Indeed.

Often, removed thereafter.

So, I suppose you've got a whole class of adjectives which can be formed from nouns meaning "having had whatever applied to it", like a pickled Chris Knight in sun-god robes, or a clubbed sandwich, or a shelled peanut farm in war-torn Georgia.
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From:canyonwren
Date:November 1st, 2007 05:05 pm (UTC)
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I heard that show and I just don't get why "cleave" doesn't count. It means both to split apart and to bring together.
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From:tsmaster
Date:November 1st, 2007 05:24 pm (UTC)
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Several years ago, Car Talk had an ongoing contest where they collected words like that - "cleave" has multiple definitions, as does "sanction", and so on. But when you're using one of those definitions, hopefully by context, you're making it clear which one, and removing the ambiguity.


In both cases of the words I have in mind, the literal definitions have implicit logical inconsistencies. However, that sort of thing doesn't keep these words from being used by people with, let's say, a high-school vocabulary.

I expect that most people hearing the argument why these words are inconsistent will roll their eyes and keep on using them in their common senses.
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From:tsmaster
Date:November 1st, 2007 05:47 pm (UTC)
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No further clues about the original puzzle, but the easier game of coming up with words that have (near) antonyms within their multiple definitions isn't bad, either:


  • dust - to apply powder (e.g. flour) / to remove powder (e.g. dead skin, etc)
  • boned/skinned/scaled/shelled - food with inedible parts removed / the food in its natural state, with the inedible parts still attached
  • cleve - to hold together / to split apart
  • sanction - to approve of / to disapprove of and punish
  • let - to permit / to restrain (archaic)
  • inflammable - capable of catching fire (in- meaning "into") / not capable of catching fire (in- meaning "not". Not considered correct usage.)


Oh, one more, which doesn't seem to fit, but in the right sentence, it does:
transpire to occur / to spread, like gossip

And in this sentence about a trysting couple keeping their activities quiet uses both definitions: "What transpired between them did not transpire."


I throw this open as a separate puzzle - what other words can be ambiguously used to the point of being near or complete opposites?
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From:ginsu
Date:November 1st, 2007 06:06 pm (UTC)
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As demonstrated by the Bush administration: nation-building.
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From:tsmaster
Date:November 1st, 2007 06:10 pm (UTC)
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Heh, yeah, I'll accept that as the best one so far. Very much in the "destroy the village to save the village" mindset.
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From:ginsu
Date:November 1st, 2007 06:17 pm (UTC)
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Thanks.

After I submitted that one, I looked up the answer from the show and it seems similar. In both cases the word is a sort of euphemism which implies that a changed entity had no original state. But there was quite clearly an original state.
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From:jessindenver
Date:November 3rd, 2007 02:23 am (UTC)
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This conversation is totally hot.
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