Date: Fri, 7 Oct 1994 13:17:20 EDT


Subject: Re: Name that syntagm

I agree with Dennis B. that Dennis P.'s suggestion of 'indirect speech act'

for this particular quirk of 'don't care to' is too narrow. (It may also be

too broad, if I read the original query rightly.) But there is a term in the

non-academic literature that we might draw upon for these Janus-like entries.

John Train (author of Preserving Capital and Making It Grow, The Money

Masters, and--in a more relevant vein--Remarkable Names) has been referring to

these items (since his 1985 book "Remarkable Words") as ANTILOGIES. He

portrays himself as the coiner of the term, although the concept has been

around at least since Freud's 1910 curious essay on "The Antithetical Meaning

of Primal Words". Classic examples from Train's material include

cleave 'stick together'/'hack apart'

could care less

let 'permit'/'hinder' (let ball, let or hindrance)

table [as verb] 'bring up for discussion'/'defer discussing'

overlook 'watch over'/'ignore'

sanction 'permit'/'ban'

enjoin 'force'/'forbid'

bomb [theatrical] 'success' [U.K.]/'disaster' [U.S.]

temper 'harden' (steel)/'soften' (justice with mercy)

moot '(no longer) under consideration'

Many examples on closer inspection turn out to involve irony or sarcasm (as in

'could care less')--terrific, Fr. un malheur, sacre'--and quite a number

involve lack of specificity about what would now be called thematic relations:

rent (from vs. to), Fr. apprendre, dust (crops vs. shelves), string (beans vs.

beads). In fact, I've written about these last batch in a paper a few years

back; they are fun to think about. Related participials that allow source vs.

goal readings are legion: horned, pitted, boned. Some of these are also

featured in the literature on puns, not least the Amelia Bedelia series for

kids (remember her version of trimming the steak or dusting the furniture?).

One of the ones that always puzzles me is "It's all downhill from here": does

it get easier (and thus better), or worse? There's also a nice paper by

Charles Li many years back on a Chinese expression (cha-yidiar, plus various

diacritics, if I remember correctly) which glosses literally as

'miss-a-little' and means either 'just barely' or 'not quite'. And even in

English we talk about the 'near miss' of two airliners, as well as missing not

being somewhere. Anyway, 'antilogy' seems to be as good a term as any.