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Here we explore topics related to writing and grammar from time to time; and we encourage you to send us your feedback, contributions, and suggestions for topics to explore.

Janus words: Two-faced creatures

A recent Merriam-Webster blog sheds light on one of the many ironies of the English language. The phenomenon of Janus words.

According to Wikipedia, Janus is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings. He has two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past. Janus presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and hence war and peace.

A Janus word is one that is its own opposite. Here are several, some of these are from the Merriam-Webster blog.

To move swiftly (The tall sprinter runs fast.)
Stuck in a firm or fixed manner (The bird struggled and was held fast in the net.)

To read carefully (The hiring manager carefully perused all the applications for the job.)
To skim over (Jesse quickly perused the crowd, looking for a girl in a neon pink hat.)

Watchful and responsible care (The new manager was given oversight of a large project.)
An error of omission (The error was a simple oversight of two numbers.)

To attach something (The cashier clipped the coupon to the receipt.)
To cut off something (The lady still clips her coupons from the newspaper.)

To split (A giant blow from the axe cleaved the block of wood, which shattered into a million pieces.)
To adhere to (Jesse cleaved to her son until he passed away from a fever.)

Evil and bad (The wicked witch poisoned all the creatures in the forest.)
Extremely good (The group gave a wicked concert this weekend, it got rave reviews!)

Can you think of any Janus words? Send them to me please! See more of them here.


Send comments and suggestions to Donna M. Marks or call the Editorial Help Desk at 301-517-8139.

Contact the Editorial Help Desk at or 301-517-8139.

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