Word for Wednesday: Dust

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January’s Word for Wednesday theme is Janus words. A Janus word is a word with contradictory meanings. These words are also known as contronyms and auto antonyms.

Last week we looked at the word weather, this week’s word is dust

As a noun, dust refers to a fine powder made from microscopic particles of other materials that coats surfaces and floats in the air. However, like with weather, it is the verb forms of dust that have contradictory meanings. 

The verb dust is used to describe the act of removing dust. For example: 

  • He made sure to dust the house before his parents came to visit.
  • I should dust those cobwebs away. 
  • We haven’t dusted in so long, you can write your name in the grime. 

It is also used to describe the act of adding (metaphorical) dust. For example: 

  • He dusted the cake with icing sugar.
  • The streets were dusted with snow. 
  • I dusted flour on the countertop and then rolled the dough. 

The ‘removing dust’ meaning of this verb dates to the 1560s and the ‘adding dust’ meaning dates to the 1590s. The Old English word dust comes from the Proto-Germanic ‘dunstaz’. 

12 Jan 2022
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Teacher, High School, UK