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March 5, 2010


Abbas Raza

You really should be given Safire's column.

David Ker Thomson

"Leave and cleave" was the watchword for our sexual coming of age as Christian fundamentalist boys, which meant to leave parents and cleave to your wife. I mean, not YOUR wife per se. And not wives in general. One's one wife. The "leave and cleave" phrase, if it was even spelled that way, perhaps licensed more startling images than it suppressed. Trust Smith to know that a certain apparently random cluster of misunderstandings is actually a category and it is has a funny but not uninteresting name. Keep it coming.

Alon Levy

When I started reading this post, I only could think of "to moot" - I didn't really think of the other words.

The guest/hostile alternation is not unusual as a case of semantic drift. There are a lot of other near-antonymous cognates, usually coming from some case of specialization or generalization, or just general drift. For example, in Greek and Latin, *yer specialized from year to season, and eventually to hour; in Germanic languages, it kept its original meaning. Color and color-related terms are very unstable, creating cognates like black, blue, blaze, flavio, flagration, all coming from *bhel, which meant to burn or to shine.

Guido Baldoni

In italian, "ospite" means both "guest" and "host". This always puzzled me.

Chris Boyd

Always found something beautiful in the Spanish why and because:

¿por qué? porque


"sanctions" -- prohibitions against doing something
"sanction" -- to permit or allow something

"oversight" -- responsibility for, jurisdiction over something
"oversight" -- a mistake, a failure to be responsible for something


I’m listening to some bad hip hop right now. The lyrics are ill. But the beat is bad, and the loop is bad. Really, it’s just a bad record altogether.

Josh P

As a variation, how about antonymic homonyms such as raise/raze? I remember a high school conversation with a friend about such words, but all I can come up with is the raise/raze pairing.


учить in Russian means both "to teach" and "to learn".

Karl Steel

Thanks for this? You know Derrida's meditation on the host autoantonym? I write about it a bit here. Here's the bit you might find useful:

We can understand the import of what occurs here through Derrida's lecture notes for the session that opened his course on “Hostipitalité,” or, as Gil Anidjar straightforwardly translates the word, “hostipitality.” As elsewhere in his oeuvre, Derrida forms a neologism that expresses his argument in miniature. “Hostipitality” incorporates the double meaning of the French “hôte,” which means both “guest” and “host.” As Derrida argues, a host who welcomes a guest in a limited sense—for a limited time, with a limited set of accommodations, and for a guest whose character, desires, and needs are already known in advance—has not been truly hospitable, because the host has measured the hospitality. A truly welcoming host must offer hospitality without limits, which requires that the host be overcome by an unexpected guest with unexpected wants. Thus the true host is unable to welcome, because to welcome means to decide when and how far to open the door. Nor can the true host know the character of the guest in advance, because this, too, reserves to the host the option of denying hospitality. By welcoming, the host risks being caught up entirely by the demands of the guest, even becoming hostage to the guest: hence the ethical and logical affinity of the opposing meanings of “hôte.” Hence too the presence of the Latin root “hostis,” meaning both “stranger” and “enemy”: the arrival of the guest “ruptures, bursts in or breaks in” upon the host, shattering the host's sense of home, boundaries, and, ultimately, self, since the true host reserves nothing to itself.


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