Offering help for writers and language learners, this series of posts is a resource for all word lovers.
This week’s words: Resign, Really, Dog eat dog, Yuan bei,
‘Resign’ 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! In this case, there’s an added peculiarity. ‘Resign’ and its counterpart, ‘re-sign’, are spelt the same but pronounced differently. This makes them homographs but not homophones, which are words that sound the same. In this case, the hyphen is an essential element to comprehension. ‘Resign’ means to surrender, give up, relinquish. But ‘re-sign’ means simply to sign again, as in re-signing a document, contract, etc.
Let’s look at usage for Resign/Re-sign:
‘I’ll give you one chance, Donald: you can either resign your position with some dignity, or I’ll sack you and expose the reasons for your dismissal.’
‘I’m now resigned to the inevitability that profit will always come before people in the minds of those with wealth and power.’
‘Jacob re-signed the contract, knowing it was a great offer.’
‘Mary re-signed the original pre-nuptial agreement, after tearing up the old one as unjust, since she realised she wouldn’t get a better deal out of Walter.’
Redundancies are words serving 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: ‘Really’
‘It really doesn’t matter what you think.’
We could try; ‘It isn’t important what you think.’ Or, ‘What you think is irrelevant.’ Or, ‘Who cares what you think?’
‘They walked a really long way to get here.’
Perhaps try; ‘They walked many miles to get here.’ Or, ‘They walked a great distance to get here.’ Or, ‘They walked for days to get here.’
Cliché; a cliché is a stereotyped or hackneyed expression; a phrase, opinion or other element of language that’s been so overused it no longer holds any power. However, clichés usually come into being as the result of their original ability to describe a situation or quality. Their use should be sparing and appropriate; in dialogue, they’re acceptable, providing the speaking character would use such expressions.
Dog eat dog: an expression meaning a situation in which people will do anything, including harm others, to achieve their goal.
‘It’s dog eat dog in the world of Big Business.’
We could use, ‘Big Business encourages ruthless behaviour.’ Or, ‘The world of Big Business is merciless.’
Untranslatable words: 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.
Yuan bei (Chinese) – the sense of complete and perfect accomplishment.
Language learners will find a great group page on Facebook.
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