Contronyms and Clarity

Contronyms and Clarity

The word “cleave” is an enigma—first itself and then its opposite,
for it can mean “to cling to” but it also means “divide or split”.
What’s with the English language, with words meant to confuse?
Why bother to define a word that seems meant to abuse
our reason and ability to know what a word means?
Has our whole lexicology reverted to our teens
where “bad” is “good” and “sick” is “amazing, awesome, cool?”
What’s with these double meanings that make me feel a fool?

Do you believe the world of words has somehow let you down?
You imagine you’re a scholar, but turn out to be a clown?
That “hold up” means “support” but also “impede” is mendacious.
What next? Will “roomy” come to mean both “cramped” as well as “spacious?”
A rock is something solid—the opposite of jerking.
So why does “rocking out” involve this gyrating and twerking?

Someone “left” remains  but one departed also “left.”
What happens in a language where there is not a cleft
between what a word means and its opposite as well?
Have we run out of ways to enumerate and spell?
Are there not sufficient different words to go around?
Must we ascribe to opposites the same spelling and sound?

Though it’s anything but spartan, must our language play the fool
and accept a meaning for a word that clearly breaks the rule
that a word must stand for something clearly understood?
That a word can mean its opposite ultimately would
turn “black” to “white” and “white” to “black”, turn “happiness” to “sadness,”
and once given this opening, our world would turn to madness.

If “yes” meant “no,” how many brides would be sadly wed
when they meant to marry another man instead?
If “up” meant “up” but also “down,” how would folks reach their floor?
And imagine the concussions if “solid wall” meant “door.”
So, so much for contronyms. Let us cease to spout them.
It’s clear enough to me the world is better off without them!

Prompts for the day are opening, spartan, mendacious, cleave and let you down.

18 thoughts on “Contronyms and Clarity

  1. Marion Couvillion

    Oh Judy this one is definitely a keeper~! As you know I love contranyms or “Janus words”. and I often use them for reasons other than causing confusion. Sometime you can say what is really on your mind without causing conflict. And your poem on the subject is also so very well constructed~! Thanks~!

    I have been feeling a little better each day but my AC went out last night,,,, however it was my fault, it had frozen up, due to my not changing the filters in time. My one Son, Mark, will come this weekend and we may get to take those drone photos of the flowers; and my other son Cass will be coming next week end for a visit, too. My friend in Minnesota will be here on the middle of June for a couple of weeks and we plan fish fries, BBQ’s and a lake cruse which we (in the past) normally do with friends on Fathers day. The guest list is only to people who have had the Covid shot~!! The worse part of being home bound is that it gets to be so very lonely, and my poetic side has really bitten the dust, being worse than usual.

    I am in the process of changing maids, after about 15 years I came to the conclusion that it may be time; though I love Maria to death, but did not much think her sister was a very good worker. They absolutely refused to wear a face mask or gloves, though I bought a supply for them, and then they refused to get the Covid shots. (Then the sister then came down with Covid~!!!, what a scare~!”) So now I have two new ones and they are really doing a great job… They waxed my floors~!! which has not been done in ages and they even did the windows, of which I have many. I do the outside and porch with a pressure washer. Things that Maria had stopped doing long ago… We get so used to “status quo” that we do not notice that things are not what they used to be. I am at fault as she has become almost an addition to my place, but the new ones have the shots and actually wear their face masks. I already knew them because they work for a friend down the road, and will come by my place the same day as they do theirs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lifelessons Post author

      So sorry as I know they were like family to you but what you describe is a perfect illustration that something good can come of the worst of things and their refusing the shots and masks certainly made it clear that you needed to part ways. You will no doubt become just as fond of your present day helpers. I would be devastated if I ever had to fire Pasiano and Yolanda. I really look forward to seeing them three times a week and I feel close to them and their families. Now Jose has worked for me for a year as well and we keep finding new projects for him, the present one being repairing cracks and salitre damage and repainting my perimeter walls and part of the outside of my house, then installing a watering system for my lower lot. After that we will no doubt find more projects. He needs the work and does an excellent job with everything he does.


  2. slmret

    Language is a strange animal — there are many languages that use multiple words for meanings that we have only one word for — and the other way around. There are concepts in common usage that we do not have a single word to express. How confusing it can be! Your poem does a great job of setting out some of the worst examples!


      1. slmret

        Years and years of Latin and French in school have stood me in pretty good stead for figuring out word meanings in English, and a few in other Romance languages! But I do agree that English would be a tough one to learn!


    1. lifelessons Post author

      Had you ever heard the word contronym before? I hadn’t. Had to look it up. The closest I could come to a word for these opposite-meaning words was oxymoron but that wasn’t quite right. Not really a contradiction..but close.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mason Bushell

        I think I’d seen the word in a passing through documents and such but never learned what it was until I read your wonderful poem.

        Oxymoron is almost right isn’t it. Contronym is more like using a word for the wrong or contradicting meaning. Clever stuff!



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