New month, new methods. In order to maintain the quality (such as it is) of my posts and meet my other obligations, I’ve decided to shift to a biweekly format.
Biweekly… now there’s a confusing word. Sometimes it means twice a week and sometimes (as in the previous paragraph) it means once every two weeks. Context doesn’t always resolve the ambiguity, though I think I’m getting the hang of it after several decades of fielding unsolicited print and email promotions: if it’s something you want less of (like “biweekly updates” from your insurance broker), it means twice a week; if it’s something you want more of (like having your name “entered in a biweekly lottery”), it means once every two weeks.
Fact is, the English language abounds with words and phrases that make no sense. I’m certainly not the first person to notice that “head over heels” does little to portray the state of unbridled infatuation, given that most of us spend most of our time with our heads over our heels (except, ironically enough, when our infatuation has reached its logical conclusion).
The word “sanction” also gets top marks in the illogic department: in some cases it means to endorse and in others to oppose. Why, for instance, does “He put sanctions on the medicinal use of marijuana” mean the opposite of “He sanctioned the medicinal use of marijuana?” It’s all very confusing.
There’s actually a grammatical term for a word that has two contrasting meanings: contranym. One of the best examples is the verb “cleave,” which can mean to join (as in “cleave unto”) or to split. So if you encounter two short sentences cleaved together, feel free to cleave them with a semicolon.
In my final bid to expose and expunge illogical English, I’m offering a prize to anyone who can explain why parkway means a place where you drive and driveway a place where you park.
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Random update: A few posts ago I talked about the verbification of words with a long and venerable tradition as nouns. While perusing the Olympics section in the newspaper the other day I ran across the word “eventing.” I suppose one could do worse than eventing, medalling, and fortuning from all the endorsements.