Saturday, January 30, 2016


A Spurious Auto-Antonym

P.G.W. Glare, "Liddell-Scott-Jones: Then and Now," Hyperboreus 3.2 (1997) 205–217 (at 211-212):
A more complicated example can be found in the entry under συγχωρέω. The opening definition is come together, meet; the second is get out of the way, make way, which would appear to be the exact opposite of the first. Although there is an old joke which says that in Arabic every word means itself, its opposite, a name of God, and a part of a camel, this is a ludicrous exaggeration, and is no more true of Greek than it is of Arabic. The first example quoted under the second sense comes from Aristophanes Wasps 1516; it runs:
φέρε νυν ἡμεῖς αὐτοῖς ὀλίγον ξυγχωρήσωμεν ἅπαντες,
ἵν᾽ ἐφ᾽ ἡσυχίας ἡμῶν πρόσθεν βεμβικίζωσιν ἑαυτοῖς.
One of the characters is certainly telling the others to get out of the way so that the chorus can proceed with its dance; what he actually says is: "Let us all get together in a group (so as to leave room, etc.)". The writer of the article has translated what he supposed to be the sense of the passage, without considering whether the word could possibly have the meaning he assigns to it. He then goes on give way, yield, defer to. These translations again express the general drift of the passages cited to support them, but it would be more accurate to say agree with, fall in with; the dictionary user would then have a much clearer idea of how one sense leads into the other.
Wendy Doniger, The Hindus: An Alternative History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 44:
[I]t used to be said that every Sanskrit word means itself, its opposite, a name of god, and a position in sexual intercourse.†

† This was said at Harvard, when I was there in the sixties, and it seems to have been based on another Orientalist joke sometimes ascribed to Sir Hamilton A.R. Gibb of Oxford and Harvard, that every Arabic word has its primary meaning, then its opposite, then something to do with a camel, and last, something obscene.


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