Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Own Worst Enemy's Autoantonyms

In the show My Own Worst Enemy Christian Slater plays a character with two personalities. I won't get into too many details about the show but the gist of it is that Slater's character is a spy who voluntarily had a microchip with a second personality implanted in his brain by the agency for whom he works. The reason for the microchip is the agency is supposed to be able switch between the two personalities to suit their needs. You may be wondering what this has to do with linguistics, well...the agency is appropriately named Janus after the figure from Greek mythology that has two faces; and in linguistics Janus is the name given to a type of word that is also known as an autoantonym. Autoantonyms or Janus words are single words that have opposite meanings (as opposed to antonyms which are two different words with opposite meanings).

Some examples of autoantonyms are:

Overlook: to examine; watch over...OR...to fail to notice; miss.
Hold up: to support; cope...OR...to hinder; delay.
Scan: to examine closely...OR...to glance at hastily.
Bolt: to secure in place...OR...to dash away suddenly.

My Own Worst Enemy has another item of linguistic note worth mentioning too, the name of the company that Slater's character's alternate personality works for is A.J. Sun (the letters from Janus scrambled).

1 comment:

Spellsmith said...

And the most famous (IMO) autoanytonym: "let"

Both "to allow" ("I let him do it") and "to hinder, forbid" (legalese: "without let or hindrance.")

- Scribbles & Dots
http://www.g2n.be/scribbles

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