Looking for the Best Word? Tip #44

Word cloud created via Prowritingaid.com

Offering help for writers and language learners, but adding variety to topics covered. This series of posts remains a resource for word lovers but its scope is widening.

My apologies for the late post this week: I was concentrating on getting my latest book, War Over Dust, to the publisher in time for the deadline of 30th June. Did I make it? Watch for my regular weekly post on Progress on the WIP (due next on 5th July)

So, to this week’s words: Sanction, Sehnsucht, 8 a.m. in the morning

‘Sanction’ belongs to an odd category of words known as contronyms. A contronym is a word that is its own antonym; a word that has two opposing meanings! This one can mean to officially approve (an action), or to impose a penalty on (often for an action).

Let’s look at usage for sanction:

‘The Minister for War sanctioned the use of chemical weapons on the protesting peasants, in the hope it would stop their irritating movement against the use of illegal powers.’

‘Trade and financial sanctions against despotic regimes are often used in an attempt to bring them in line with democratic and fair treatment of their populations.’


Redundancies are words that serve no semantic purpose. In speech, they act as spacers, giving the speaker time to think. But in writing, except when representing natural conversation, they impede the reader’s progress.

This week’s example: ‘8 a.m. in the morning

The acronym, ‘a.m.’ stands for ante meridiem, which is Latin for ‘before noon’. The morning is ‘before noon’, so you need write either, ‘8 a.m.’ or ‘8 o’clock in the morning’, but ‘8 a.m. in the morning’ expresses the same idea twice, and is therefore unnecessary, or redundant.

Untranslatable words that express emotions. The world’s languages contain numerous words for emotions (and other things) for which English has no equivalent. I suspect most people are familiar with ‘schadenfreude’, from German, and ‘frisson’, from French, but there are many more, and I’ll introduce some here from time to time.

Sehnsucht (German)– ‘life-longings’, a powerful desire for alternative states and apprehensions of life, even if they are out of reach.

Language learners will find a great group page on Facebook.

I welcome observations and suggestions here. Please use the comments section below for your ideas and thoughts.

6 thoughts on “Looking for the Best Word? Tip #44

  1. Nice post, Stuart… Thanks for giving me contronyms.

    One common and regular example of redundancies is its use in British (and Commonwealth) legal terminology: for example, ‘cease & desist’, ‘aid & abet’ and ‘breaking & entering’.

    Aside from those of a legal persuasion having a reputation for florid phraseology, these ‘Legal Doublets’ did once serve a purpose, during the transition from Saxon to Norman rulers (and thus from English to French as the language of the legal profession).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Benny. Interesting info regarding redundancies; these particular examples do find their way into everyday language from time time, as well, of course, which can then ‘promote’ them to the status of cliche!
      English is world’s greatest thief, or, if prefered, collector of words from other languages, which is why it has such depth and width of expression. I’m glad I was born into this tongue: French, for example, with its vocabulary of just over 100,000 words, has great charm, but lacks the nuance of English. And, as we all famously know; the French have no word for entrepreneur! Poor old Bush, will that be his legacy, I wonder?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You may never use ‘contronym’, Roger, but I bet you use contronyms quite frequently! It’s great to learn new words, isn’t it? I honestly can’t recall where I came across this one, but I enjoy the challenge of applying these new aids to better expression.


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