Not only are there words in English whose multiple meanings are contradictory (see Auto-antonyms), there are also pairs of words that look like they should be contradictory, but they are really virtually synonyms. All of these word pairs, it turns out, could be included on my page, "Unnecessarily Duplicated Words," but that would also be duplicating myself, and in doing so, I would be contradicting myself, which would be paradoxical. Interesting.
Pertain / Appertain
The prefix "a" usually means "not," as in a-tonal music, but for some reason "appertain" means "pertain" as much as "pertain" means "appertain." Go figure.
Aught / Naught
"Aught" is listed among the auto-antonyms because it can mean either "anything" or "nothing," but since it can mean "nothing," as its kin "naught" does ("Naught literally means "not aught"), it also finds a home here, among other unlikely synonyms.
Cogitate / Excogitate
"Excogitate" seems to suggest the removal of cognition. In reality, this is the most synonymous pair on the page. They both mean "to contemplate thoroughly." Weird.
Criminate / Incriminate
As I understand it, "incriminate" means more "to point out as a criminal." "Criminate" suggests casting doubt of one's character: "impugn." But if someone has pointed you out as a criminal, it's likely that person has also put your character in question.
Void / Devoid
While "void" can be a noun, an adjective and other forms of words, something can be "void of" as much as it can be "devoid of" something. But the prefix "de" usually refers to the removal of something, so "devoid" should refer to the removal of a void, which, it seems to me, would either just leave a larger void or would mean filling in the void. You figure it out.
Press / Depress
Avoiding the psychological definition of "depress," this word can mean "press down or flattened." So, if you depress a pedal you also press the pedal, even though "depress" sounds like it should mean "unpress."
Sever / Dissever
The prefix "dis" usually indicates that the word it begins means the opposite or undoes of the root to which it's attached. After you assemble something, for example, to store it, you often need to disassemble it. Not so with these two terms. In fact, on definition of "dissever" is "to sever." Hmm. Go figure.
Spend / Expend
Usually, you don't expend money, you spend it, except that certain bills accumulated over a specific period of time are called expenses, so then you have spent money for expenses. That is, you give funds (spend) in exchange for goods or services; you expend your financial energy.
Stain / Distain
"Distain" is primarily a verb while "stain" can be either a verb or a noun. Still, in the context of clothing or something you don't want stained (in contrast with your home's cedar siding), both words refer to a patch that is discoloured from the surrounding area. A stain, in this context, is caused by accident, while "distain" seems to suggest intentional discolouring.
Stressed / Distressed
Since "distressed" has financial meanings as well as emotional ones, it is a broader term than "stressed." Speaking solely of the emotional definition, however, it seems clear that "distressed" and "stressed" are, in fact, synonyms in spite of the fact that "dis" should undo the emotional state of being "stressed," and so these words should be antonyms. Strangely, they are not.
Famous / Infamous
Granted, "infamous" has negative connotations, and "famous" does not. Still, both words mean "widely known." Both Julius Caesar and Brutus may be known world wide, but Julius Caesar is famous; consider the "Julian Calendar" named for him, while Brutus would be considered infamous, as in "brute" and "brutal," which are derived from his name. Nevertheless, "infamous" does not mean "not famous," as one might think, even though the prefix "in," more often than not, means "not," just not in "infamous."
Flammable / Inflammable
Many fuel companies in the 1980's stopped writing "in-flammable" on their tank trucks because the general public thought it meant "not flammable," as though they were carrying milk or something. (Can you imaging a fuel truck delivering Exxon's coffee cream?) While both words share a common root, "inflammable" has been filtered through the word "inflamed," as in swollen, while "flammable" comes to us more directly from "flame." Even so, whether a substance is flammable or inflammable, it will burst into flames if exposed to excessive heat.
Habitable / Inhabitable
The prefix "in" means "not," but "in" in "inhabitable," it technically isn't the same prefix; the word means "able to be inhabited," while "habitable" means "functional as a habitat." So if an area is inhabitable it is also habitable.
Passive / Impassive
Since both "passive" and "impassive" deal with a lack of response from a person, they also, essentially mean the same thing as each other. I refuse to be impassive about this discovery.
Pending / Impending
While "impending" deals with things that are negative and "pending" things that are positive, both words still mean "likely to happen at any moment."
Impregnable / Pregnable
Again, "impregnable" is an also an auto-antonym like "aught," above. One of the meanings of "impregnable" is "able to be impregnated," while "pregnable" means "able to be made pregnant."
Print / Imprint
Admittedly, "imprint" carries more tactile connotations that does "print;" nevertheless, in both cases, when dealing with ink on paper, a mark is made. One would think, however, that "imprint" would unprint what is printed, even as "impossible" makes "not possible" what would otherwise be "possible."
Inquiry / Query
One would think that, rather than a lawyer in a courtroom saying, "I withdraw the question," he or she might just as easily say, "Inquiry." Unfortunately, that's not how the word works, for, to say "Inquiry," is also to say, "Query."
Tense / Intense
A situation that is said to be "tense" may just as likely be called "intense."
Iterate / Reiterate
Both of these mean to repeat for clarity or emphasis. Both of these mean to repeat for clarity or emphasis. (So, if "iterate" means "repeat," is "reiterate" redundant? I wonder.)
Unction / Inunction
Even though "inunction" would seem to undo what ever is done in "unction," because it looks like "not unction," in reality, both of these words refer to an annointing for religious or healing purposes. Odd.
Valuable / Invaluable
The prefix "in" in "invaluable" would seem to suggest "not valuable" or "worthless." While it does, indeed, mean "not" in this context, the word as a whole means "priceless" or, more clearly, "not able to be assigned a monetary value," while "valuable" simply means "highly costly."
Slow down / Slow up
Both of these are used, one after the other, in a single scene by a single character in the movie, Jaws.
copyright © 2013 by A. J. Mittendorf
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