Tuesday, November 02, 2010


Hrl: An Auto-Antonym

Jose Luis Borges, Brodie's Report (tr. Andrew Hurley; on the fictional Yahoo language):
Their language is complex, and resembles none other that I know. One cannot speak of "parts of speech," as there are no sentences. Each monosyllabic word corresponds to a general idea, which is defined by its context or by facial expressions. The word nrz, for example, suggests a dispersion or spots of one kind or another: it may mean the starry sky, a leopard, a flock of birds, smallpox, something splattered with water or mud, the act of scattering, or the flight that follows a defeat. Hrl, on the other hand, indicates that which is compact, dense, or tightly squeezed together; it may mean the tribe, the trunk of a tree, a stone, a pile of rocks, the act of piling them up, a meeting of the four witch doctors, sexual congress, or a forest. Pronounced in another way, or with other facial expressions, it may mean the opposite. We should not be overly surprised at this: in our own tongue, the verb to cleave means to rend and to adhere. Of course, there are no sentences, even incomplete ones.
Thus hrl is an auto-antonym, or word that can mean the opposite of itself.

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