Little Paradoxes In The English Language


When I was told that “squarely defeated” and “roundly defeated” essentially mean the same thing, I began to ponder about some more curious English words or phrases.

  • Peruse – It means to read thoroughly and attentively. However, it can also mean to skim. “Scan” also has contradictory definitions similar to “peruse”.
  • Clip – To attach; to cut off.
  • Flammable and Inflammable – Some people assume that they are opposite in meaning because of “in” like action/inaction and tangible/intangible. However, that’s not the case. Inflammable comes from the Latin verb inflammare, the root word flammare means “to catch fire” and combined with the Latin prefix in which means “to cause to”.
  • Oversight – It may mean watchful and responsible care or an omission or error due to carelessness. This may explain why many oversight committees are prone to oversight.

  • Fat chance and Small chance – Both have somewhat similar definitions though fat chance is normally used for pointing out sarcastically (or perhaps, cynically) that there is almost no chance.
  • Priceless – When something is said to be priceless, it means that thing is too precious that its price cannot be determined. Unlike useless and valueless, the meaning of priceless doesn’t become the opposite of “price”.
  • I couldn’t care less and I could care less – Both have the same connotation but technically, “I couldn’t care less” is the correct expression. However, more and more people are now using “I could care less”.
  • Moot – This may either mean subject to debate or having little or no practical relevance.
  • Fix – Here’s a little wordplay that I came up with. You can fix a car to win a race and you can “fix” a horse to lose a race.
  • Apparent – Not certain or clear; obvious

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My name Edmark M. Law. I work as a freelance writer, mainly writing about science and mathematics. I am an ardent hobbyist. I like to read, solve puzzles, play chess, make origami and play basketball. In addition, I dabble in magic, particularly card magic and other sleight-of-hand type magic. I live in Hong Kong. You can find me on Twitter` and Facebook. My email is

10 thoughts on “Little Paradoxes In The English Language

  1. Wonderful post –I have wondered about several of these, myself. Most recently, flammable and inflammable!

    A similarly confusing word (for me, at least) is dilate.

    Enervate is another one people often get wrong. It sounds like it would mean the exact opposite of what it does.

    Also, “I could care less” is a huge pet peeve of mine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading.

      I’m not sure when people started to get confused with ennervate though I know that it was quite a long time ago. I have read a rant about it on a 19th century periodical.

      Many more got confused about it when Rowling used “enervate” as a spell for reviving someone who got stunned in Harry Potter. Later, she changed it to “Rennervate” to avoid misconceptions I suppose.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Funny, little language buggers aren’t they?! Oh well, might as well enjoy them. XD
    Very well-written and informative article. Thank you. :)
    Correction: Fat chance and Small chance – Both have

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “I could care less” has always annoyed me. I see it all too often in books, and while it may be the more popular of the two expressions, it’s wrong. It amazes me that publishing house editors don’t correct it. (Because…you know…they’re so much better than Indie authors.) 😒

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that “I couldn’t care less” is still more popular (at least in writings) though “I could care less” is steadily gaining more traction.

      Those publishing houses though just couldn’t care less…

      This is like all right/alright. All right is the more acceptable of the two but more and more people are now using alright. They argue that this is similar to already and altogether (which are acceptable). For now, alright is only acceptable in informal writings but in formal writings, all right is the only acceptable form.

      However, English is a fast evolving language, so I won’t be surprised if “alright” would be TRULY accepted in formal writing in the future.


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