Fun With Words

The English Language may be the coolest language in the world right now, and also the most functional, but like every other language (or maybe moreso than other languages) it comes with its fair share of quirks. One of these quirks that I haven’t quite seen in other languages yet is auto-antonyms.

Auto-antonyms are basically words that contradict themselves fundamentally. One word we may know is “inflammable”. Does it mean “flammable” or does it mean “not flammable”? Many people also have issues with the use of the word “overlook”, which can mean “neglect” or “oversee”, which are fundamentally opposite words. Other fun words like that are “sanctioned”. Are sanctioned goods goods that are allowed by law, or goods labelled as illegal by law? So many fun auto-antonyms that we use without thinking very much about.

These words are pretty much irrelevant in the English Language. However, English also faces a diagonally opposite problem, in that certain feelings we all encounter regularly don’t have an expression for them in English. Many brave adventurers have undertaken the task of creating words for them, such as Douglas Adams in “The Meaning of Liff”. Here’re some examples of things we face that we don’t have expressions for, and therefore think we’re the only ones who experience them.

1. Walking into a room and forgetting what you went in for.

2. The feeling you get when you sit on a seat someone has just gotten up from.

The above 2 words had been covered in the Meaning of Liff. Below are some expressions that haven’t made it.

3. The false sensation of movement when, looking out from a stationary train, you see another train depart.

4. Feeling that the thermometer is still under your tongue after it has been removed.

5. The urge to peek into boarded-up construction sites.

6. The gnawing sense of incompleteness knowing that there is a partially eaten snack lying around.

7. Praying to a god you don’t believe in.

It is strange that things like these all occur to many people, but because there is no legitimate word for them, people dismiss them as illusory, delusional, something that only happens to them and no one else. The power of an incomplete language, and its influence on our mind! Admittedly, many of these words don’t appear in Chinese, or Japanese, or French, either. I suppose the feeling is so unique to the modern day, and so specific, that no single word can suffice. And if there ever is such a word, it is not used often enough for people to remember or acknowledge it.

I’m sure many of you have other fun trivia to share about English and words in general. Do think about them and tell me!


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