Friday, 29 April 2016

Some words that kinda mean their opposite

I’m aware that this blog doesn’t really stick very closely to it’s science-fiction subject matter. It roams freely, choosing whatever loosely-related subject happens to be interesting to me at the time.

Well that’s about to stop.

Unfortunately that’s because this next post is going to be not-at-all-related.

You see what I did there? Language can be so misleading at times.

So with that in mind here are a few words that I’ve always found particularly confounding, and that may even mean the opposite of what you think.

Let’s start with some Twentieth Century racism. The Nazis famously wanted to kickstart the Aryan race. They saw this as a master race of white Nordics. You know the type, the kind of tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed bad guys that Indiana Jones would come up against. But as an ethnic term, Aryan actually means Indo-Iranians. Meaning much darker tones than old Adolf was suggesting. Just as well he tainted the whole thing out of common usage.

Not so Aryan now, are you, mein Freund?

We think of a factoid as a little or quick fact. As in “here’s a quick factoid for you: Indiana Jones’ first name was actually Henry.” But its true meaning is pretty much the opposite thing: an item of unreliable information that is reported and repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact. The suffix ‘-oid’ usually means resembling but not actually the same. As in planetoid. Thus a factoid is an untruth.

Dr. Henry Jones Junior. Fact

When the government or military talk about defence, what they are usually discussing is offence. Thus in the early 1940s, a wise SS would have set aside money in their defence budget for actively hunting down American archeologists.

This next one is more to do with my personal ignorance than common misconception. As such it takes a little setting up. Let’s start with the words feminine and masculine. Feminine: having characteristics typical of a woman. Masculine: having characteristics typical of a man. When we add some extra sounds at the beginning and the end of each word we get effeminate and emasculate. Effeminate is the adjective used to describe something male that displays feminine characteristics. Surely then emasculate is some kind of opposite. Is it the adjective for when a female displays male characteristics (perhaps like Indy’s one time girlfriend, the hard-drinking Marion Ravenwood)? Or is it the word used to describe something male that’s particularly masculine (like our matinée hero himself)? Of course not. After a lifetime of using this word in completely the wrong context, I found out what it really means. Who makes this stuff up?

But it's irrelevant anyway, nothing can emasculate Indy. (Let's not talk about snakes)

If you were standing in a cellar or underground parking lot and someone was talking about being razed to the ground, you could be forgiven for thinking you were about to step into the lift (or elevator). Whereas instead you should have been thinking that the person was going to burn the whole place down, in the manner of Gestapo agents looking for the headpiece to the Staff of Ra in Marion Ravenwood’s Nepalese tavern.

I know. That last reference was a little too much

Moot Point
But you don’t care anyway, do you? The whole thing is a moot point, because to you it’s a matter of no importance, right? Wrong. The original meaning of moot point is a hypothetical idea created specifically to be talked about. Perhaps a bit like George Lucas saying to Steven Spielberg “what if we took the Charleton Heston film Secret of the Incas, and remade it with a nicer good guy and a bunch of Nazis.

Nah, it'll never work. He looks all wrong

Anyway enough of this awful article and its attempts to cram an Indiana Jones reference into every paragraph. Awful you say? Why, thank you very much. The word originally meant inspiring wonder. Literally full of awe.

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