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Contranyms should (not) be sanctioned


The lawyer is understandably perplexed by a website report stating that a newly enacted statute “sanctions” individuals who wish to sell apples at roadside stands. Did the author intend the meaning of “sanction” which Black’s Law Dictionary defines as “to ratify?” Or did the author intend the alternative (and near-opposite) meaning: “to impose a violation?”


“Sanction” is one of a limited number of words in the English language having alternate, contradictory, meanings. Another common one is “clip,” which can mean both “secure” and “detach.” In the law, “certain” (when employed by certain lawyers) long ago became a term to be applied when the lawyer prefers meaning to be uncertain, as in “certain measures have been taken to prevent ransomware attacks.”


One contranym that sews much confusion in insurance law is “tender.” Numerous decisions employ “tender” to mean the Insured’s request of a liability insurer that the insurer defend. However, many decisions employ “tender” to mean the provision by the insurer of such a defense. May I suggest that from now on “tender” be used only to mean the Insured’s request, and that when the insurer provides the defense we use the perfectly good verb, “provides?”


Doing so would afford a certain measure of clarity.


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