Friday, June 10, 2016

Sound and Sense, 6

Our English dictionary has in it many words whose sounds and meanings can … confuse. In this next series of doggerel, I’ll be writing about several sorts of such words.
The first—the contronym: a word, says the Oxford English Dictionary, that has “two opposite or contradictory meanings.”
Earliest published use: 1962.

cleave verb
1. to adhere
2. to separate

I vowed that I would cleave to her—
She vowed she’d cleave to me.
But later on she grew so bored
She wished she could be free.

And so she found a way that she’d
Be single once again:
She bought an axe and wielded it—
And cleaved my head in twain.

So in my grave I contemplate—
I guess it’s like a salve—
The ways that English words are weird—
Split meanings they can have!

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