-Ize on the Prize


Apparently I’m not alone in gnashing my teeth at the proliferation of words ending in ize. There was no shortage of suggestions for annoying additions to this genre. I particularly liked inquirize, referring to the common practice of making a comment sound like a question by upward inflection at the end. (“The NPR interviewee inquirized every last statement.”) Another winning submission was schadenfreudize, for adding an element of guilty pleasure to a fraught situation. (“Schadenfreudized drivers passed victims of the latest speed trap.”) The final prizewinner is spinachize, or including spinach in a meal. (“Let’s spinachize this dinner.”)

Food and technology provided the source material for many an -ized word. In addition to spinachize, readers suggested we chocolatize, Doritoize, glutenize, or umamize our meals (from umami, Japanese for the savory taste induced by flavor enhancers). Two readers thought that promoting a plant-based diet could be considered vegetarianizing or vegizing. As for technology, twitterize, cloudize, iPhoneize, tabletize, and emoticonize (or emojize) were all suggested. Consider me favorably impressionized.


When electricity use rises, we say it spikes. So do a political candidate’s rapidly rising poll numbers. Journalists, however, say an unpublished piece of writing has been spiked (because in olden days, its pages would be impaled on an editor’s desktop spindle).

Spike is a contranym, or contronym, a word with contradictory meanings. Other names for the same phenomenon include antilogy, auto-antonym, self-antonym, antagonym, enantiodrome, or in Arabic, an addad. Writer Richard Lederer calls them Janus-faced words. Whatever term you prefer, words that are antonyms of themselves are surprisingly common. Cleave can mean cut apart or join together. Seed can involve sowing seeds in soil or removing them from produce. Tart refers to a sour taste or a sweet pastry. Pitch can mean to talk up or to throw away. Temper means both harden and soften. One can destroy a letter or create a CD by burning it. Someone who’s touchy can enjoy touching others or be quick to take offense (or both, God forbid).

In some cases, contradictory meanings are the result of deliberate repurposing. Sick, for example, most often refers to being ill. Not good. But in contemporary street parlance, sick can mean “good.” (“That hat is sick.”) Better yet, wicked good. Or bad (meaning good).

It isn’t hard to imagine sentences that include the same word used antithetically: “The editor spiked a story about the spike in home prices,” say, or, “After dusting the pastry with powdered sugar, he dusted the furniture.”

For an American Scholar tote bag, create a sentence that uses the same word twice with opposite meanings. (The best three will win.) Although that word can be one already identified as a contranym, bonus points will be awarded for a fresh discovery.

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Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Ralph Keyes is the author, most recently, of The Hidden History of Coined Words, which has just been published.


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