Sunday 15 January 2012

Archaic Pairs

Waxing and waning

Why are factions always “warring”, asks David Aaronovitch? And why don’t we use the archaic word “warring” in any other context? There are more of these pairs:

accomplished liar (skilled)
allay fears (soothe)
amicable divorce (friendly)
arrant nonsense (utter)
assailed by doubt (attacked)
bore the brunt (bore the what?)
bounden duty (duty)
capacious handbag
dabble in black magic
dulcet tones (sweet)
dwindling stocks
eagerly anticipated
empty ritual, Victorian monstrosity (obs)
figment of the imagination (product)
fleet footed/fleet of foot (fast)
grist to the mill
hideous reprisals
hotly contested
indissolubly linked (indivisibly)
inexorable rise
inspissated gloom (saturated)
irredeemably naff
labour under the delusion
lull into a sense of false security (hypnotise)
militate against (work)
pent up emotions/fears (bottled)
permeated with melancholy (saturated)
ply a trade (carry on)
redoubtable old lady (terrifying old bat)
salve your conscience (soothe)
serried ranks Merriam-Webster: "crowded or pressed together”
stanch the bleeding (stop)
stem the flow/tide (stop, hold back)
straitened circumstances (reduced)
strident feminist (Will this one be revived as feminists come out from where they’ve been hiding since the 80s?)
staunch Protestant, fervent/devout Catholic, militant atheist
tenuous connection (fragile, slight)
trained opera singer
unmitigated disaster (total, complete, utter)
wanton destruction (irresponsible)
warring factions
wax lyrical (become poetic) The only other thing that waxes is the moon; then it wanes.
woe betide (ill befall)
wreak havoc (cause)
wrest control (seize, grab, twist)


  1. By no means all those are archaic - unless, of course, I'm archaic (which is a possibility).

    1. Would you say any of them in other contexts, though?

    2. I wrote a reply, but the system swallowed it.

  2. Quite a few of them strike me as being readily usable in other combinations than those you have mentioned. For example, I would certainly use 'accomplished' to describe, for example, a fluent linguist or a technically-adept musician.

    I won't bore you into a coma by going through the list, but it includes several words that I use quite frequently in contexts other than those you've named.

    1. You're right - but phrases like "accomplished liar" and "amicable divorce" have become doublets. You can't have one without the other. (The opposite of an amicable divorce is of course a "messy divorce". That means she finds out about your affairs and you have to pay her huge amounts of alimony.)