Enantiodromes

by Rachel Creager Ireland

I love enantiodromes. These are words which are their own opposites, also known as “auto-antonyms.” (Not that I have to tell you, you already knew that.) Enantiodromes often arise over time, as word meanings change with long use. Jung spoke of enantiodromia, a psychological phenomenon in which a tendency becomes so extreme that its unconscious opposite must eventually erupt. Shadow work, anyone?

One enantiodrome is oversight: it can mean carefully watching to make sure no mistakes are made; or it can be a mistake that one has carelessly failed to notice.

Another is bill. If I hand you a bill, have I just given you money, or a request to give me money?

I’ve long observed that advertising often says the opposite of the truth about a product. It was only recently that I realized that this makes advertising a fertile spawning ground for new enantiodromes. A thing of value used to be one of the highest quality, and precious; but, anymore, if you see the word value on a package at the grocery store, you know it’s probably the cheapest brand.

Original is another marketing enantiodrome. Something original is new, like an idea no one ever thought of before; it probably stands out, or above, the others. But if you see original on a food package, you know it’s the oldest flavor, and, let’s face it, the least interesting. It’s just the regular stuff, nothing special about it.

Maybe enantiodromes are a collective expression of our unconscious, emerging from the shadows to point out to us what we really want, who we really are, where we’ve come from, where we’re going. Watch for them, and ask them what message they bring.

What enantiodromes are you seeing in your world?

Toulouse and Wildfire

The venerable Toulouse with just-weaned Wildfire

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