Tuesday, April 29, 2008

David's Definitions for June 2008

Sanction, Cleave

(Will appear in the June 2008 issue of Community News)

These are interesting words that are famous because each has two diametrically opposite meanings.

Cleave, from an old Germanic word meaning to stick, can mean to stick to. The Bible refers to a man "cleaving to his wife." But another old Germanic word gives us the meaning of cutting apart - for example, a cloven hoof, meaning a hoof that is split in two.

Sanction, from the Latin sancire, to make holy, can refer to approval or disapproval. The world can sanction Iran's nuclear program by saying that it's peaceful and can go forward, or the world can disapprove of it and impose sanctions.

It's a good thing we English speakers are so logical, orderly, and rational. Otherwise, words like these would get us all confused - which comes from a Latin word meaning to mix together, which certainly describes these two words.

I'm collecting all of these at: http://www.dvorkin.com/davidsdefs.html


Lahdeedah said...

That whole 'cleaving to wife' thing always confused me, as I thought it referred to using an axe to cleave said wife....

David said...

No, that would be "cleaving through wife".