The Ambiguous Lock

pexels-photo-750108

A curiosity-led ambling through the pathways of the internet one night revealed something to me that I’d never previously noticed about the English word “unlockable”. A quirk whereby it may mean either of:

  1. impossible to lock
  2. capable of being unlocked

In first case, we have “un + lockable”, where the “un” acts like “not”, and says that we mean “not lockable”. And for the second meaning, we have “unlock + able”, which says that we mean “possible to unlock”.

Pretty wildly different meanings! And seemingly all because the “un” prefix is permitted to mean either negation (not lock) or reverse/opposite action (unlock). Despicable! And Zamenhof knew it; thankfully he blessed us with both “ne” and “mal”, so that we didn’t have to tolerate such flagrant ambiguity in Esperanto:

  • ŝlosi = to lock
  • malŝlosi = to unlock
  • ŝlosebla = lockable
  • neŝlosebla = impossible to lock
  • malŝlosebla = capable of being unlocked

Neat !

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “The Ambiguous Lock

  1. Angle, mi auxdas mensogantojn, aux eble frizistojn.

    Mi pardonpetas, sed krokidilado sekvas: “If a lock is unlockable (1) it cannot be locked. But a lock cannot be unlocked which is not locked, so it cannot be unlockable(2). Contrariwise, if a lock is not unlockable(1) it can be unlocked, precluding it’s unlockability.”

    • Wow 😀 Mi konfesos ke mi luktis por kompreni kun ĉiuj tiuj “unlock”-oj! Interese! Regarding your last sentence, is it really true that lock a that is not unlockable(1) can necessarily be unlocked? It’s only not impossible to lock, which says nothing about whether it could be unlocked again?

      • Mi pensas ke “to unlock” significas “cxangxi je sxlosita al malsxlosita”. Se on ne povas sxlosi sxlosilon, oni ne povas cxangi gxin, kaj la sxlosilo devas esti “unlockable”.

  2. Kiuj klavoj ne povas malfermi ŝlosilojn?

    Simioj, azenoj kaj meleagroj! 😀

    (I fear the crux of this joke may be lost in translation…)

    • I had to translate it aloud and then the laughs came! Sort of like a puzzle joke 😀

      I think the puzzle joke format has legs… Should leave clues as to the source language, so that the person has to figure out the original language, then translate it aloud to get to the fun. 😀

  3. Interese! Mi supozas, ke dekomence tiu distingo inter “ne” kaj “mal” povas estigi konfuzon, sed kiel vi klarigis, la diferenco ja estas grava kaj eĉ povas esti tre utila. (Ekzemple, “malbela” kaj “nebela” estas tute malsamaj aferoj!)

    Aliteme, mi feliĉas, ke vi revenis al blogado: ne forrestu tiel longe venontfoje! 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s