Help for writers and language learners; these posts look at different aspects of the world of words to stimulate curiosity and enhance creativity.
This week’s words: Out; Periodic sentence; There are many who think; Let sleeping dogs lie; Ellipsism.
Out belongs to an odd category of words known as contronyms. A contronym is a word that can be its own antonym; a word that can have two opposing meanings! Out can mean ‘visible’ or ‘invisible’. ‘It was great that the moon was out when the lights went out.’ Though these are by no means the only meanings for this adjective.
Out – Roget’s thesaurus lists the following headers for this adjective: absent, expanded, open, misjudging, inexact, mistaken, matured, inactive, sleepy, disapproved, and dead drunk. Under the sub-heading ‘absent’ are a further 50 alternatives including not present, away, gone, disappeared, missing, lost, and omitted. Out is a word that can be used in combination with many other words to produce phrases meaning lots of different things.
Let’s look at usage for Out:
‘Mary was eager to find out whether Alexis had come out about her sexuality.’
‘George had lost the election and, after a night drowning his sorrows was completely out of it.’
‘The fighter plane was out of sight almost as soon as Jean heard it approaching.’
In sentence 1, ‘find out’ means ‘discover’ and ‘come out’ means ‘admit’.
Sentence 2 uses ‘out’ to describe the way that excessive drinking has rendered George insensible.
And in sentence 3 the fighter plane is moving so fast that it has disappeared from sight before the sound of its engines has faded.
Figure of speech:
Periodic sentence: is a sentence that is complete in sense and syntax only once its end is reached.
‘Of death and maidens, of love and passion, of virgins and wantons, Edgar wrote in his quest for the perfect poem.’
‘As he stroked his palms down her neck, down her back and bottom, down her thighs, he couldn’t help thinking this must be what warm silk feels like.’
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: ‘There are many who think’ Unfortunately, there are many who don’t think! All we need here is ‘many think’. We can replace five words with only two, and achieve the same sense. Better, don’t you think? ‘There are many who think using a lot of words makes them appear wise.’ Better this way? ‘Many think using a lot of words makes them seem wise.’
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 effective 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.
Let sleeping dogs lie: an expression meaning to avoid disturbing the status quo.
‘Unless you want to cause a riot by naming and shaming the tax evaders in Parliament, you should let sleeping dogs lie.’ A perhaps better way of expressing this piece of cowardice would be, ‘Unless you want to cause a riot by naming and shaming the tax evaders in Parliament, you had better say nothing.’ Of course, anyone with any backbone would clearly name the whole gang of scoundrels!
Untranslatable words: The world’s languages contain numerous words for emotions (and other things) for which English has no equivalent. I suspect most people know ‘schadenfreude’, from German, and ‘frisson’, from French, but there are many more, and I’ll introduce some here from time to time.
Ellipsism: sadness that you’ll never know how history will turn out after your demise.
I contribute a monthly column to an online magazine, Pandora’s Box Gazette where I also deal with the use of words. To take a look, click this link.
I welcome observations and suggestions here. Please use the comments section below for any ideas and thoughts.
If you’ve found this post useful, please share it by using any of the buttons provided. Thank you.