Printable Version
Pronunciation: ahb-vêrs Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, noun

Meaning: 1. Opposite, alternative, reverse. 2. Pertaining to the face or front of a coin, paper note, or other flat object. 3. (Botany) Narrower at the base than at the top when speaking of leaves.

Notes: If you have trouble keeping the meaning of today's Good Word straight, it's because it is a contranym, a word that may be used as its own antonym. It can mean "front" or "back" depending on the context. In fact, it may be used as a noun meaning "the face of a coin" or "the opposite of a view or fact". It has an adverb, obversely.

In Play: Obverse may be used as an adjective or noun in referring to flat objects: "The obverse (side) of the American quarter has a bust of George Washington; the verso (side) has a representation of one of the fifty states." It may be used as its own antonym elsewhere: "The obverse (idea) of Lord Acton's observation works just as well: powerlessness corrupts, and absolute powerlessness corrupts absolutely."

Word History: Today's Good Word was snitched from the Latin contranym obversus "turned against, directed toward", the past participle of obvertere "to turn toward or against". Obvertere is made up of ob "toward, against" + vertere "to turn". Latin created ob from PIE epi-/opi- "near, at", source also of ancient Greek epi "upon, at" Sanskrit api "also, besides", and Russian o(b) "around, about". Vertere is the Latin version of PIE wer-/wor- "to turn, bend", source also of Russian vertet' "to turn", German werden "to become", Lithuanian versti "to turn", and English -ward "toward" as in westward and homeward. (Now let's offer thanks to Gary Cook, a prolific newcomer to the Alpha Agora, for yet another fascinating Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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