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Choosing Carefully

The English language is notorious for its confusing rules. It has words with multiple meanings, multiple words that mean the same thing, words borrowed from other languages,  and nonstandard spelling rules, along with odd colloquialisms, idioms, and cliches (y’all’re gonna wanna think outside the box, it goes without sayin’).

As if that wasn’t already confusing enough, it also has contronyms.

Contronyms are words that have two contradictory meanings – like the examples below…



This versatile word can describe something that is both sticking together and splitting apart. We can “cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9), or wield an axe to “cleave a log in two.” This English word originates from two separate Old English words, "cleofian" meaning "to adhere" and "cleofan" meaning "to split."


Depending on the context, “to sanction” can either mean to approve or to penalize. It comes from the Latin word " sanction ," meaning "law" or "decree.” When used for approval, "sanction" is like a stamp of authority, but it can morph into its alter ego, meaning punishment or penalty.

"The regulatory body voted to sanction the new project, giving it their full support, while also sanctioning the contractor for violating regulations." (Regulatory bodies are famous for sanctioning things.)


Use "dust" to add a dusting of something or to clean the dust off. You can dust fresh-baked pastries with powdered sugar, and then dust the counter to clean up the mess.


A bolt can be used to secure something tightly as well as to swiftly make an escape. “A bolt of lightning shattered the gate’s retaining bolt, allowing the horses to bolt from the corral.”


Giving something a "trim" can mean cutting it as well as adding to it. You can trim the bushes with clippers and trim the tree with lights. Carpenters add trim to spruce up a room and tailors trim fabric to make a dress before adding lace to trim it.


These days, who doesn’t know about screens? We use screens to display content after it has been screened by editors. We measure “Screen Time” and put screens on windows, then draw the curtains to screen the room from prying eyes.

Overlook - Oversight   

Overlook and oversight are words that have dangerously opposite meanings. They can both mean to supervise and to neglect. When someone has oversight over something, they are expected to watch it with care and attention. The same word can also mean that they failed to pay attention.


"Weather" embodies both strength and vulnerability. When the tempests rage, "weather" becomes a symbol of resilience. We can "weather the storm," emerging stronger.

"Weather" can also refer to the slow erosion of time’s touch. Even the mightiest structures yield to its ceaseless march, becoming “weathered” as they wear away.


“Left” is what remains after some of what has “left” is gone.

“She left for work, so he finished what was left of the movie alone.”


Ask a young child to “draw the drapes” and see what they do.


“Apologetics” is a branch of study focused on defending something. An “apology” can also be an act of contrition rather than a defense.


Someone who is bound might be tied up, or they could be on their way to a destination.

“I was bound, but now I’m free. I’m heaven-bound since Christ saved me!”


Like the English language, the Christian life can seem to hold some contradictions too. We’re called to find “newness of life” by losing our life; we find ultimate fulfillment by denying ourselves, and we gain the most genuine joy in sacrifice.

“He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” ~ Jesus, John 12:25 
"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." ~ the Apostle Paul, Galatians 2:20 

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