Ironic Words

Pelican and Iguana, Galápagos by Paul Coleman via National Geographic”s Photo of the Day

In my wanderings in the worldwide web, I’ve encountered a question that sounded so disarming. If I remember it right — but most probably, I’m not — it went like this:

What becomes longer when you shorten it?

Since I did the snooping in the office, I didn’t have enough time to analyze the contents of my vocabulary, so I sneaked a peak at the answer after just five seconds of thinking. The answer:


That, I understood immediately. You’d just add an -er at the end to get its comparative form, so it really becomes longer, from five letters to seven, if you intend to mean something shorter than “short.” This reminded me of “The Three Oddest Words,” a poem by Wislawa Szymborska as translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh:

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no non-being can hold.

The combination of the two topics made me wonder if there are other words like those — so delightfully contrary to their meaning. Here’s what I came up with:

  • “Thin” occupies a becomes wider section of a page if you lessen its thickness by writing “thinner.”
  • “Small” and “smaller.”
  • “Narrow” and “narrower.”
  • “Slim” and “slimmer.”
  • “Poor” and “poorer.”
  • “Empty” and “emptier.”
  • “Light” and “lighter” referring to weight.
  • “Quiet” and “quieter.”

After those two words, I ran out of ideas, but I did enjoy myself for a good thirty minutes.  I hope to expand this list further, so I’d appreciate if you could comment with your own entries to this list.

If this sounds old to you, it’s because I’m reposting this from an old blog, the dead Staring at the Sun blog that I used to have.


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