Want to Read More Books? Join the Club

Giant pile of books

Photo by Steven Guzzardi (Flickr)

We all know the benefits of curling up with a good book, both educational and psychological, and yet, like Henry Bemis, it seems like we never have enough time to do it. The to-read list just keeps growing, and in the time it takes you to finally finish one book, many more have been written that you might want to add to the list. But finding the time to read more books isn’t impossible. Sometimes, you just need more motivation to make it happen, and for that, peer pressure can help. Perhaps that’s why book clubs are booming in popularity: You don’t want to be the only one who didn’t finish the book in time for your book club meeting, do you? Read more ›

Posted in Fun Stuff

Have it Both Ways: Words With Opposite Meanings

JanusEnglish can be a confusing language in many different ways, with words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently (like “lead” the element and “lead” the verb) and words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently (like “threw” and “through”). But one extra layer of confusion comes from auto-antonyms, also known as Janus words or contronyms. An auto-antonym, also sometimes called a self-antonym, is a word that means two opposite things at the same time. The English language contains a surprisingly large number of words that have opposite meanings, which can largely be attributed to the ever-shifting nature of words and their definitions. Can’t think of an auto-antonym off the top of your head? You’d be surprised how many words with opposite meanings you use every day without even noticing it. Make sure that if you’re using these words in your writing, it’s very clear which definition you mean!

    • Bolt: You can bolt something down, which means that you’re securing it so it doesn’t move at all, or you can bolt toward the finish line, moving very quickly.
    • Buckle: If you buckle a seat belt, you’re connecting two things, but if asphalt buckles, it’s breaking apart.
    • Cleave: A married person should cleave to their spouse, which means that they should stick by them. But if you use an ax to cleave firewood, you’re splitting it apart.
    • Clip: A pair of scissors is used to clip your hair at the salon, taking hair away. But you can also use a paper clip to clip together papers, adding them into one bundle.
    • Dust: Housekeepers will dust a table to remove dust from a surface, while detectives will dust for fingerprints, which means that they’re adding dust to a surface.
    • Enjoin: It’s really hard to tell what you want if you enjoin someone to do something. It might mean that you’re pleading with them to do it, but it might also mean that you’re forbidding them from doing it.
    • Fast: Runners want to be fast if it means “quick,” but they don’t want to be fast if it means “stuck in place.”
    • Fine: For a fancy dinner, pull out the fine china, the best dishes you have. But for a casual lunch, paper plates are fine, good enough.
    • Finished: It’s a good thing when a project is finished (completed), but if someone’s career or reputation is finished, it’s been destroyed.
    • Handicap: Though the word is falling out of favor in this sense, a handicap is still often taken to mean a disadvantage or disability. But if you’re playing golf, for instance, you might be given a handicap, which is an advantage that puts you ahead from the start.
Signs pointing both ways

Photo by Kyle MacKenzie (Flickr)

  • Inflammable: The funny thing about this word is that it took on an opposite meaning simply because people kept misinterpreting it. It comes from the verb “inflame,” to cause to burn (literally or figuratively), so something that’s inflammable is inflame-able, able to be burned. But since the prefix “in-” often indicates a negative, enough people read this word as in-flammable, not flammable, that this is the presumed meaning nowadays. The word “flammable” was actually invented later, and it’s more frequently used to mean “burnable.”
  • Left: If you left to go to the circus, you’re the lucky one who went somewhere fun. If you were left behind, you missed out.
  • Off: When your alarm goes off in the morning, it turns on. Then, you turn it off.
  • Oversight: A manager’s oversight (close attention and supervision) can avoid an unfortunate oversight (a mistake or omission made because someone wasn’t paying attention).
  • Refrain: In music, a refrain is something that’s repeated; in most other uses, if someone tells you to refrain, that means to not do something at all.
  • Rent: If you’re renting an apartment, you might be paying someone to use their space, or someone else might be paying you to use yours.
  • Sanctioned: Something that’s sanctioned has official permission or authorization, but if you impose sanctions, they’re penalties.
  • Seed: If you seed a field, you’re adding seeds. If you seed a cucumber, you’re removing them.
  • Strike: When baseball players get a strike, they failed to hit the ball, but more often, if you strike something, you did hit it.
  • Trim: Trimming a tree means two things at Christmastime; either you’re cutting away parts of the branches (if you have a real tree rather than an artificial one), or you’re adding decorations to them.

Can you think of any other words that mean their opposite? If so, we’d love to hear them: Leave us a comment!

Posted in Writing Tips

Deciphering the Lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne”

Photo by in pastel (Flickr)

Photo by in pastel (Flickr)

Should old acquaintance be forgot” … something, something, mine? It’s easy enough to mumble your way through this traditional New Year’s song, especially considering that you might’ve had a bit too much champagne by that point anyway. But learning a little about the song that’s been referred to as “old lang syne,” “old anzine,” or “the old lang song” can help you gain a new appreciation for why “Auld Lang Syne” is such an appropriate tune to usher in a new year. (And if you’re at all Scottish, you might gain a little extra pride in your heritage, too.) Read more ›

Posted in Fun Stuff

Fa-La-La-La-Huh? Confusing Christmas Carols

Christmas musicHere’s hoping that you like Christmas carols, ’cause at this time of year, you can’t escape them. Whether you’re driving to work, doing a bit of shopping, or just sitting in a waiting room somewhere, chances are good that you’ll hear those same old chestnuts, sometimes comforting in their familiarity, sometimes downright annoying (yes, little Michael Jackson, we believe that you saw Mommy kissing Santa, we do, so shut up already!). But if you actually listen to this seasonal soundtrack, you might start to wonder, “Just what is a spinet, anyway? What is wassail? And why does this song call the Virgin Mary fat?” The confusion tends to be caused by one of two things: pausing in the wrong places or archaic Christmas carol lyrics. Read more ›

Posted in Fun Stuff

Gift Ideas for Writers, Vol. 2: OWJ Holiday Gift Guide

Festive pile of books

Photo by Bibliotheek Kortrijk (Flickr)

It’s the time of year when everyone’s working hard on their holiday wish list, including us here at OWJ. A while back, we compiled a great list of gift ideas for writers, word nerds, and other bookish types. But there are so many more great products out there for bibliophiles now that we thought we’d put together another list of gift ideas for book-lovers and writers. If someone you love is a fan of the printed page, you can’t go wrong with any of these. Read more ›

Posted in Fun Stuff

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