Wednesday, December 29, 2010

etymologists , unite!

A buddy wrote me an interesting question (to which I did not have an answer):

It's been driving me crazy, is there a term of art for when the etymological root of a word is the opposite of the word's modern meaning?  For example, asbestos means "an unquenchable fire"; philander means "a lover of men" etc. Cheers, A.,

Anyone know this?


Ryan said...

Maybe diachronic autantonymy?

Chris said...

Excellent, I'd never heard the term autantonym beflore, but of course, there's a Wiki page on it here.

mettle said...

I don't know the term, but the semantic process by which it happens, which is what you might be thinking of, is called pejoration.

stancarey said...

I like "diachronic autantonymy", though I'd be inclined to go with the equivalent "diachronic auto-antonymy" because I find it a little clearer. For what it's worth, I wrote about auto-antonyms a few months ago.

Chris said...

mettle, thanks for the hint, pejoration is useful here.

Stan, interesting post.I was not familiar with the term chuffed and to my ears, I would have assumed it had a negative connotation.