Darkle comes from the Middle English word derkeling and means “to make or become dark, indistinct, or gloomy;” e.g., “The buildings darkled into silhouettes against the moon-lit sky.”
Word opposites, or antonyms, such as tall/short and hard/soft, are easy to comprehend and we categorically employ them without much thought. In school, we also learn the prefixes anti-, dis-, un-, or non- that turn a word into its opposite. In some cases, writers and researchers take it upon themselves to invent new words or phrases to fill a gap where language might be lacking — much like Shakespeare in his day. Here is a list of less common antonyms and two contronyms to add sparkle to your next conversation.
ambidextrous – ambilevous Only about 1% of the population are ambidextrous, or “having the ability to use one’s right and left hands equally well.” Even rarer are those who are ambilevous, the unfortunate condition of being “clumsy in both hands.”
catastrophe – eucatastrophe Katastrophe is the Greek word meaning “an overturning or sudden end.” J.R.R. Tolkien, of The Lord of the Rings fame, coined the word eucatastrophe by adding the Greek prefix eu-, meaning “good or well,” to catastrophe to ensure a happy ending.
déjà vu – jamais vu Deja vu, or “previously seen,” is that strange feeling when you think you’ve experienced something before. The French also have an opposite word, jamai vu, or “never seen,” when you don’t recognize something that should be familiar.
nocturnal – diurnal Nocturnal means “done, occurring, or active at night.” Though not as commonly used, its opposite is diurnal. This can refer to animals active during the day, flowers that bloom in the sun, or, in an astronomical sense, the daily rotation of the earth.
placebo – nocebo A placebo, often known as a harmless pill used for psychological benefit or to test the efficacy of a drug, comes from Latin and means “I shall please.” Its opposite, nocebo, was coined in 1961 by Walter Kennedy to mean “I shall harm,” where warnings about possible side effects can result in a patient experiencing negative symptoms.
optimum – pessimum Optimum means “the best condition” of something, whereas pessimum has to do with matters that are “the worst or least favorable.” As a scientific term, it can refer to the least favorable conditions for an organism to survive. In a legal or religious sense, crimen pessimum, is the worst of all crimes.
Stockholm Syndrome – Lima Syndrome Stockholm Syndrome was coined after a six-day bank heist in 1973 in Stockholm, Sweden, where one of the hostages became romantically attached to her captor. The same psychological phenomenon occurred in 1974 when newspaper heiress, Patricia Hearst, was held for more than a year by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Its opposite, Lima Syndrome, is where a captor frees their hostages out of sympathy. This occurred in the 1996 Japanese Embassy crisis in Lima, Peru when militants freed hundreds of their abductees within a few hours.
uxorious – matriorious Uxorious means “excessively fond of your wife,” e.g., “He was an almost perfect husband: uxorious, hard-working, and a good provider.” On the other hand, the word to describe a wife who is overly fond of her husband is exceedingly rare! Maritorious, from the Latin word for husband, is only referenced twice in the Oxford English Dictionary, with one example from 1607 and the other from 1978!
Next are two examples of what’s known as a contronym, a word with two opposite meanings.
Trim This word can mean either adding or taking away. Arising from an Old English word, it can mean either of two contradictory things: “to decorate something” or “to cut off outgrowths or irregularities.” Context isn’t always your friend in this case. For example, if you’re trimming the tree, are you using tinsel or clippers?
Resign Resign and resign are not only contronyms, they are also homographs, but not homophones. Resign, meaning “to quit,” is spelled the same as resign, meaning “to sign up again,” but is pronounced differently.
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