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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Sat May 05, 2012 11:18 pm

• sanction •

Pronunciation: sængk-shên • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, Noun

Meaning: 1. [Verb] To permit, encourage, officially approve. 2. [Verb] To penalize, to forbid or discourage by exacting penalties.

Notes: Richard Lederer has called words that have two contradictory meanings "contronyms"—as good a name as we need. Today's contronym, when used as a noun, distinguishes its contradictory meanings by the use of discrete prepositions. A sanction to usually indicates permission while a sanction against indicates penalization. That distinction does not carry over to the verb: "The principal sanctioned short skirts," could mean that she approved them or that she forbade them. Other contranyms in English include cleave (to/apart), clip (onto/off), rent (to/from) and wind up (start/finish).

In Play: Using a contronym requires the listener's knowing which of its meanings applies: "Iran was sanctioned for producing weapons of mass destruction by the UN long ago." We must deduce from the negative connotations of 'weapons of mass destruction' that here the verb means "penalize". "I hope using the BMW to pull the stump out of the back yard was sanctioned by Mom or Dad," however, sounds more like approval.

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Latin sanctio(n) "consecration, confirmation" from sancire "to make holy". The past participle of this verb is sanctus, which French inherited and converted to saint. The Proto-Indo-European root, *sa[n]k- "holy, sacred", contains a Fickle N, which comes and goes as it pleases historically. In sancire it is present, but in sacer "holy", borrowed by English as sacred, it is not. An interesting relative of all these words is sacrosanct, which contains this root both ways: with and without the N. (We were delighted to sanction the use of this word, sent to us by Thel Casper, in our Good Word series.)
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Postby topcat57 » Sun May 06, 2012 11:57 am

Does anyone else know any examples of contranyms?

I thought that "citation" might be one until I looked up the definitions. I was aware that one may receive a citation as recognition of outstanding service such as bravery in battle.
But, I also had a vague feeling that it could also mean a recognition of negative behavior.
Military . mention of a soldier or a unit in orders, usually for gallantry: Presidential citation.
any award or commendation, as for outstanding service, hard work, or devotion to duty, especially a formal letter or statement recounting a person's achievements. Synonyms: official praise; award; honor, laurel, reward, kudos.
a summons, especially to appear in court.
a document containing such a summons.
the act of citing or quoting a reference to an authority or a precedent.

Definition number 3 has a negative connotation for me. A summons to appear in court, such as that given to me by a police officer, means I have done something wrong.

But the word only means summons, an order to appear somewhere, which does not mean recognition in a negative sense.

So how about it? Anyone else know of a contranym (or a word you thought was one until you looked it up)?

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Postby LukeJavan8 » Sun May 06, 2012 12:29 pm

Welcome topcat 57
-----please, draw me a sheep-----

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Postby Perry Lassiter » Sun May 06, 2012 1:43 pm

Also welcome! Yes, getting a traffic ticket is a citation and so much so that the word is used synonymously with ticket. To that degree it is a contranym, I should think.

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