Linguisteries

Words are a big deal.  They matter.  But words can be weird.

Among many others, here are just a few of the linguistic mysteries (linguisteries?) that furrow my (considerable) brow.

Why is it that if I am listless, I may or not have a list?  In fact, I can be both listless and holding in my hand a list.

If I’m feeling festive, I’m eager to go to a festival–or a fest!–perhaps even a celebratory feast.  But if I’m restive, I’m not at all about to rest and I don’t feel rested.  In fact, if I’m restive and you try to make me rest, you won’t be feeling very festive.

Perhaps my longest lingering linguistery, however, is the relation of canny to uncanny.  We grasp quite early the relation of a word to the same word that begins with “un-.”  If one is coordinated, one moves about with alacrity.  If one is uncoordinated, one lumbers about like a lummox.  Add “un-” and you have a word’s opposite.

Canny and uncanny confound this rule.  One is canny if one is shrewd or astute, something admirable.  Following linguistic convention, one thinks that a person is uncanny if he is a blockhead or a simpleton.

Not so.

Uncanny has reference to something that is so astonishing it seems to have only a supernatural explanation.  For example, “Gombis’s capacity to recall baseball statistics from the mid-1970’s is uncanny!”

In certain situations, then, canny and uncanny can be near synonyms.

Very odd.  Linguistifying indeed.

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