Autoantonymic idioms?

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Thu Oct 25 17:35:02 UTC 2012

Martin Kaminer wrote
> (likely discussed at some prior date but nonetheless)
> I found this headline took several passes to parse:   _Box Doesn't
> Waste Time With New App for Windows 8_
> I should note that this particular phrase seems to lend itself to
> meaning inversion.  The Hebrew equivalent 'Chaval al HaZman"
> (literally 'A waste of time') is now used more frequently to indicate
> worthiness than unworthiness, though this is a different sort of
> inversion than in the headline above.

The entry for the saying "Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time"
is popular on the Quote Investigator website. Now the Dictionary of
Modern Proverbs has an entry about it, too.

Back in 2010 I started a thread about a joke phrase attributed to
William Gladstone, Benjamin Disraeli, William Makepeace Thackeray,
Moses Hadas and others. The phrase was an idiom that had two
antonym-like meanings. Here is a citation in 1871.

Cite: 1871 October 1, The British Quarterly Review, Article V, Letters
and Letter Writing, Page 411, Hodder and Stoughton. (Google Books full

[Begin excerpt]
A celebrated botanist used to return thanks somewhat in the following
form: - 'I have received your book, and shall lose no time in reading
it.' The unfortunate author might put his own construction on this
rather ambiguous language.

Here is a link into the archives and the start of the thread:;NubQWw;201005142308110400B

Of course, phrases with multiple and sometimes opposing meanings are a
classical ingredient of comedy.

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list