Archives for 15 February 2014

Call for information

I’m posting this in the hope that one or more of my Loyal Readers will be able to help me with a small difficulty. I’m looking for a word. More precisely, I’m looking to see if there is a word.

I want to find out whether there is a specific technical term for the kind of name whose literal meaning is the complete opposite of the thing it actually refers to. I don’t mean an oxymoron or a contradiction in terms, I mean things like these:

  • The Australian habit of calling redheads ‘Blue’.
  • The Holy Roman Empire, which as Voltaire observed, was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.
  • Orwell’s ‘Ministry of Truth’, which produced nothing but lies.
  • ‘Democratic People’s Republic’ almost anywhere you find it, but especially as applied to the comic-opera régime of North Korea, an unconstitutional hereditary monarchy in which the people count for nothing.

I have a sort of vague intimation that there is a term for these kinds of names, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it is. It may be Latin or Greek in origin, a whatsitation or thingumanym. (I may adopt thingumanym anyway, as a kind of meta-name for ‘some particular class of words that hasn’t got a name, but you know the ones I mean in this context’.)

So, what’s the proper word for these thingumanyms? Anyone? Bueller?

John C. Wright: Humans and animals

The preference among biologists is to emphasize the similarities of man to other animals, and downplay their immense and categorical differences. This is not science or religion: is it merely a slant. The glass is half empty rather than half full.

Anyone can see the similarities between humans and apes. Apes are just like humans, as both human scientists and ape scientists agree. Ape cathedrals and human cathedrals both use flying buttresses. Ape operas and human operas both use four-point harmony. Apes crap in the woods and so do humans when we cannot find a toilet, and have not taken the time to dig a latrine. The Ape-Pharaoh of Ape City wears a pshent just like Ramses II of Heliopolis.

—John C. Wright, ‘Losing Religion II