While looking through my smaller Urdu-English dictionary (a mere 831 pages, as compared with Platts’ 1259), trying to get some hints as to its age and provenance (my edition says only SAPHROGRAPH CORP. Published 1969, but it’s clearly a reprint of an earlier dictionary, which I’m pretty sure is the Ferozsons, for which 1960 is the earliest date I’ve turned up), I happened on the following entry:

lāg (H) n.f. Enmity; rancour; spite; grudge; ill-feeling; cost; expenditure; a secret; spell; ratio; approach; competition; attention; affection; love; attachment; affinity; connection; relevancy; correlation.

I’ve bolded the definitions that struck me (although the whole congeries is somewhat reminiscent of Flann O’Brien’s mock-Dineen’s entry); among the phrases that follow, lāg rakhna means ‘to harbor ill-will, have a grudge against,’ and lāg lagnā means ‘to fall in love, be enamored of.’ Now, that’s what I call polysemy.

(You can see Platts’ even longer list of definitions here.)

Addendum. The title of this post is explained here by Michael Gilleland of Laudator Temporis Acti.


  1. I think that it’s a common kind of polar concept, like “feud” which now means a bond of enmity, but also once meant bonds of obligation. It looks like a list of various kinds of relationships between two parties, or what’s ast stake between them (cost, expenditure). “Spell” is like “enchantment” or “thrall”.

  2. LH, have you pulled your classmate’s immaculate braids in 3rd grade in hope of winning her attentions you’d never been puzzled by this seemenigly illogical definition.

  3. Another Flann O’Brien fan! Now I know why I like you so much. 🙂 I once attempted to teach myself to read Irish using An Béal Bocht side by side with the English version. The humor came across much better after I’d had a few semesters of grammar and vocab (and read the stuff he was satirizing)!

  4. Also was sich liebt, das neckt sich would have been a good title for this post.

  5. John Emerson:
    I think that it’s a common kind of polar concept, like “feud” which now means a bond of enmity, but also once meant bonds of obligation.
    But isn’t this to conflate two quite separate words? For feud n1 (“enmity”), OED has this long etymological note, in which I highlight some text in bold:
    [The northern ME. fede is a. OF. fede, feide, faide (the phrase fede mortel = ‘deadly feud’ is recorded from 13th c.), ad. OHG. fêhida (whence MHG. vêhede, vêde, mod.G. fehde) = OE. fæhþ(u enmity:—OTeut. *faihiþâ str. fem., noun of quality or state f. *faiho- adj.: see foe. In 14–15th c. the word occurs only in Sc. writers, the form being always fede, feide, or something phonetically equivalent. In the 16th c. it was adopted in England (being often expressly spoken of as a northern word), with an unexplained change of form, as food(e, feood, fuid, fewd, whence in 17th c. the form now current. The ordinary statement that the change of form was due to the influence of feud n.2 is obviously incorrect; feud n.2 is not recorded in our material until half a century after the appearance of the forms foode, fewd, and would not account for them even if it were proved to have existed earlier; moreover, even in the 17th c. it was merely a rare technical word used by writers on the ‘feudal system’, and its sense is too remote from that of the northern feide for the assumed influence to have operated.
    A plausible supposition is that there was an OE. *féod str. fem. (f. féoȝan to hate) corresponding to Goth. fijaþwa as fréod friendship to Goth. frijaþwa. This would in ME. normally become fede, coalescing with the Rom. word of similar sound and meaning; but there may have been a northern Eng. dialect in which the word was pronounced with a ‘rising’ diphthong cf. mod.Eng. four from OE. féower), and from which the b forms were adopted. In 17th c. the word was occasionally altered into foehood.]
    And for feud n2 (“obligation”), quite simply:
    [ad. med.L. feudum, feodum: see fee n.2]

  6. OK, how about “match”: = “wife, betrothed”; = “enemy, adversary, vanquisher”?
    Or “mate” = “marry”; “mate” = “defeat (in chess)”?

  7. Michael Farris says

    Or sanction?

  8. Or “mate” = “marry”; “mate” = “defeat (in chess)”?
    The first is from Middle Low German māt(e), “comrade”, apparently cognate with “meat”, i.e. someone you ate with; the second (ultimately) from Persian šāh māta, “the king is dead”.

  9. I’ve seen Latin altus cited as another example of the double-jointed word*, but I feel like that’s cheating – “high” and “deep” are only antonyms if your perspective on the high or deep thing, whether it is above or below you, is essential to the word, and why should it be? (Getting high and getting deep are, if not identical, commonly synchronized.)
    In my grade-school idiolect, “kill” and “fuck” were synonyms, and they could either one could carry a meaning friendly or unfriendly.
    * Maybe you could call them “cleft” words – with pairs of meanings related in opposition, like “cleave”, meaning both to stick fast to and to separate.

  10. Also I can’t shake the feeling I’ve had or read this exact same discussion elsewhere on languagehat. Isn’t it odd that deja vu means you’re not sure if you have seen it before or not?

  11. Laag looks cognate to lig- in Latin. I don’t know how the correspondences work, so I can’t say. But all those emotions have to do with attachment.

  12. Reminds me of one of the most famous auto-antonyms, the Greek pharmakon, made famous by Derrida which means both remedy and poison.

  13. But pharmakon, like altus, isn’t really an auto-antonym; most remedies are poisons if given in the wrong fashion, and deep/high, as pf says, is just a matter of perspective. I don’t think that can be said about love/hate. By the way, I think “cleft words” is a great term.

  14. Ben Zimmer says

    Richard Lederer has called such words “contronyms”. Others have called them “Janus words”. Here’s a list.

  15. This is the post I was thinking of. For some reason I thought I had commented there, but I evidently hadn’t. All the better for me, as I was drunk at the time.

  16. I like people who date their drunken periods by LH posts.

  17. Andrew Dunbar says

    Whilse reading a Carlos Fuentes novel recently with my tiny pocket Spanish-English dictionary, I came across the word pelón which was given the glosses “bald” and “hairy”. I immediately recalled this post!

  18. I think that’s an even better example!

  19. Laag looks cognate to lig- in Latin.

    It doesn’t seem to be, but I can’t find a good etymology; Wiktionary doesn’t include one. The Latin is from Proto-Indo-European leyǵ-, whose “supposed reflexes are present in only two branches” (Italic and Albanian).

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