Friday, May 26, 2006

Misleading words

Today was the first day I’ve had to use an umbrella since arriving in Nottingham two and a half years ago. Yes, I know it’s England and it rains all the time but my working and travel circumstances have meant that I could go without one. In fact, until six or so months ago, I didn’t even own one but Michelle (*) had a surfeit of them and gave me one.

It’s large and very yellow.

I’m sure that I looked like a walking egg yolk but it kept me dry. It has a red logo (a bit like the blood clot you sometimes find in yolks) and some writing that says ‘Central Office of Information’.

Does that phrase also strike you as at odds with the truth?

I think if it just said ‘Office of Information’, I’d not feel uneasy about it. It’s the ‘central’ that causes the problem. There’s something disturbingly Stalinist about it which entirely changes the meaning. Had it said ‘Central Office of Dis-Information’, I’d probably not have given it a second thought.

Sticking to the topic of words, misleading ones in particular, I’ve been trying to find out if there’s a term to describe a word that sounds like the opposite of its meaning. In other words, an ‘anti-onomatopoeia’.

I don’t think there is but it’s needed for a word like ‘pulchritude’. Probably because it sounds a bit like ‘puke’, it seems like the complete opposite of ‘great physical beauty and appeal’.

Can you think of any other words that are anti-onomatopoeias?

(*) It's a great umbrella despite my poking fun at it. Thank you, Michelle


Blogger DougZAR said...

What do I win if I can think of one?

1:33 pm  
Anonymous xmichra said...

okay, this is a little firs grade and all.. and most likely isn't what you are lokking for. But I don't think the word "bleat" is accurate. I mean COME ON..
Dogs, bark
cows, moo
cats, mew
bees, buzz
sheeps, BLEAT???
No non no, I am sorry. They BAA. and snort and make other insane noises. But no bleating is to be had. So I have no idea where the heck that came from.

1:45 pm  
Blogger Qenny said...

Does abbreviation count?

6:13 pm  
Blogger Saddle Up said...

Words that sound the opposite of their meaning?

I'm not really sure but Flammable and Inflammable are too odd words...

I also remember on tv where the presenter was comparing the French, German and English languages and how people have the impression that German words are hard, aggressive and generally pointless.

He went on to explain that the English word 'Butterfly' was crappy - it meant nothing relating to what it really was being nowhere near butter and not looking like a fly. The French word was 'Papillon' which was ok, but the German word was a thing of beauty: Schmetterling.

It rolls straight off the tongue!

Then he took escalator... and the German word: Rolltreppe (meaning rolling steps)... How cool is that?

12:52 am  
Blogger Babsbitchin said...

Oh for God sakes, have another drink with me and you'll forget all about it. Let me tell you about the time I shot at the guy with the umbrella and he...

4:54 am  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

tigger: you win an honourable mention and your name goes down in posterity.

xmichra: bleat doesn't quite fit in that context but it's a brilliant word to use when someone who is constantly whining and complaining.

qenny: um, yes, but no, but yes...

saddle up: those German words are wonderful but we seem to have moved to words that convey the meaning. Much easier to find than opposite-sounding ones, don't you think? An escalator in Afrikaans is 'roltrappe', ie same derivation as the German. As for another Afrikaans word that brilliantly conveys the meaning, there's 'spookasem' which, directly translated, means 'ghost's breath'. It's the word used for candyfloss.

babs: Another drink would be great, now tell me that story....

2:32 pm  
Blogger Caroline said...

I asked Jim if he could think of any anti-onomatopoeic words and he told me this story:

He'd been given homework of writing a story that used onomatopoeia and his father suggested this story:

Mike is upstairs in the attic, his father sitting downstairs.

His father hears a "Crash!" then a "Bang!" and a "Wallop!" wondering what on earth is going on he goes up to the attic.

"Mike, what are you doing?"

"Nothing dad, I'm just sitting on-a-mat-up-'ere."

2:35 pm  
Blogger Terri said...

I think the guy who wrote the dictionary was dyslexic (and isn't that a cruel word in itself?). 'Butterfly' works much better as 'Flutterby', don'tcha think?

8:44 pm  
Blogger Babsbitchin said...

Is the pic of you for the gay banker interview in January??

10:53 pm  
Blogger nyasha said...

here is the title of the new Disney movie or the new Broadway musical: "pulchritude & the beast" :)
oddly enough, an anti-onomatopeia for me would be the word: "push" mainly because in portuguese "puxar" means "pull". So when i started learning english, i always got confused and never knew if i should pull or push when i read "push" on doors.
Nomad, you sure got me thinking on this one!

12:38 pm  
Blogger nyasha said...

or there is also "grackles" for the simple reason that this ugly sounding name is actually the name of a very beautiful looking bird.

12:48 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

caroline: nice way of describing onomatopoeia!

terri: flutterby is a perfect word for butterfly.

babs: yes, there are two pics of me there, one looking at the camera, the other of me sitting on a bench in the south of France. Both were taken just under a year ago.

coffee addict: I don't think that film is going to make much money! Funny you should mention 'puxar' vs 'empurrar' because I always found 'puxar' difficult to understand for the same but opposite reason to yours. As for 'grackles', I'd not heard it before until a few weeks ago when I read about them here. Seems like another word to add to the list of anti-onomatopoeias.

4:43 pm  
Blogger LiVEwiRe said...

You know, if I saw someone with a big yello 'brella sporting that phrase, I'd feel compelled to go up to them and ask them every question I could think of. As far as your 'anti-o' list, I'm still waking up, so I can't think that hard - it'll hurt.

6:28 pm  
Blogger Wenchy said...

I loved the big and yellow bit. :)

8:33 pm  
Blogger stuart said...

Not really anti-onomatopoeic, spendthrift is the opposite of what I think it should mean.

Bet I'm not on my own with that.

1:44 am  
Anonymous Joseph said...

a funny made-up woed a few would understand without explanation

9:13 pm  

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