Uriouser and Uriouser

They rhyme, but they have opposite meanings.
It’s very difficult to feel both emotions at the same time,
and one is far more productive than the other.
Seth’s Blog

What is Seth on about here? Furious and curious.

I’m not sure I buy the “opposite meanings” claim but he makes a good point: Curiosity drives out furiosity, and vice versa. It’s tough to hold onto puzzled and peeved at the same time. And if I’m interested in fixing something, it’s better to enquire into it than to rant about it.

But as a native speaker of English, I’d never paired these words before: That’s the sort of thing second-language learners and their teachers do.

Watch out for these two words:
They look/sound similar but aren’t related in meaning.

Indeed, maybe it’s only when we set out to learn another language that we fully appreciate our facility with our first. When speaking off the cuff, we reach, usually correctly, for the correct verb tense even in complex constructions.

I wish I had had access to that information sooner: My life would have been completely different.

By the time he leaves town, she will have finished her exams.

Our listeners are not befuddled when we use homonyms.

They’re over there; I wonder where their car is.

We understand ellipses, effortlessly filling in the missing bit.

He got his mother’s personality, not his father’s.

Indeed, we use them so easily we can have a hard time recognizing them. Whaddya mean something’s missing? That’s just how we talk.

But although I appreciated Seth’s succinct and non-spurious argument about the contrary meanings and contrasting results of curious and furious, this post also reminded me of one of the few times I truly startled my Spanish-conversation partner.

So there I was, without a ride home,
and it was a real penis.

A wee flurry later, it turned out that I wanted pay-nah, not pay-nay: That is, pain, not penis. Ah.

You’d think someone along the way might have warned an inconsistent-pronouncer-of-vowels (aka, an English speaker) about that particular landmine.

Here, right here.
Watch out for this mispronunciation.

Not that I’m furious about it, you understand. Just mildly curious.


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8 Responses to Uriouser and Uriouser

  1. barbara carlson says:

    Stay curious. It’s what keeps us from completely rusting out.

  2. Very funny!
    I have heard that people training for the diplomatic service are alerted to the sorts of ambiguities in translation or mispronunciation that can lead to embarrassment. And perhaps airlines pay attention to the same sorts of potential language minefields. I recall being shocked by the English professor who pointed out that in order to avoid vulgar language in English one had to be thoroughly acquainted by the vulgarities.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – I hadn’t thought of diplomats, but what you say is likely true. They have a professional interest in the language they’re learning. I don’t suppose it’s easy to compile such a list (I never worry about gold, bold, or told being so similar) although there would be some obvious warnings. (I think of one small child of my acquaintance who couldn’t say “truck” correctly, with the substitution you can imagine.)

  3. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – one of my French teachers said he learned the hard way that it was OK to say “phoque” in a polite French conversation in reference to an ocean seal , but using the same word in an English conversation got some strange looks until he learned that phoque is pronounced the same as “fuck”.

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