English is considered a difficult language to learn. Even our grammar rules are confusing. (That’s the reason I’m driven to write these short writing tips.) To add to the difficulty, there are many words that can also mean a seeming opposite.
Here are a few examples:
1. Custom refers to both the usual and the special:
My custom (usual) is to order pizza with anchovies, garlic, and jalapeños.
My custom (special) Jaguar has a built in pizza oven.
2. First degree can mean least severe or the most severe:
A first-degree burn is not a serious as a third-degree burn; but being charged with first-degree murder means the perp is in big trouble and will probably bust rocks in the hot sun for the rest of his life.
3. Strike means making contact with something, or missing or eliminating something:
A storm blew in with lightning striking the right fielder. If a batter swings at the ball but misses, he made a strike.
4. Handicap can be an advantage or a disadvantage.
If you study the Daily Racing Form and learn to handicap, you have a better chance of your horse winning.
If a jockey falls and breaks his leg, that handicap would keep him from riding.
5. Left refers to what is no longer or to what remains:
Elvis left (no longer there) his fans in the casino. His fans are now left (remain) alone.
6. Garnish means an addition or a subtraction:
My Bloody Mary, garnished with olives, asparagus, celery, and onion, stimulated my appetite.
Irresponsible Ira had his wages garnished (money subtracted) for failure to pay his taxes.
7. Transparent means visible or invisible.
The politician decided to be transparent (make visible) and open her records to the public.
When people don’t notice me, I feel transparent (invisible).
8. Fix can mean you’ve restored or mended something broken, or that you broke something: the stopped clock can function again if you fix it.
An angry thug might fix your clock, meaning you might end up with a broken nose.
9. Screen means to show or eliminate:
I attended the screening of Zombie Meets Godzilla and left after ten minutes.
An undesirable job candidate is screened and not interviewed.
10. Dollop can mean a small amount or a large amount:
If you order a cup of Earl Grey at a diner in Sandusky and ask for a dollop of cream, a small portion is added to your cup; but if you’re drinking tea in a little shop on the Cornish Coast and ask for the same, you’ll get a large amount. Americans and the Brits define dollop differently.
Kathleen Kaska, Marketing Director