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weeveeship's avatar

Do you think that the definitions of "sanction" are contradictory?

Asked by weeveeship (4622points) January 7th, 2011

I am referring to the use of the work “sanction” as a noun.


Sanction seems to have two conflicting meanings. One meaning of the word sanction is a penalty. Another meaning of the word sanction is an approval.

It is difficult to tell which is meaning is intended for a sentence like: “They had the judge’s sanction.,” without knowing the context. Did the judge penalize them? Or did the judge approve of something they did?

Or in the example given by the definition site, “he appealed to the bishop for his sanction,” does that mean “he” wanted the bishop to approve of his actions (Google says yes) or does that mean he perhaps got a ruling he did not like (from say, a medieval court) and is now appealing that “sanction” or penalty to the bishop?

So, do the definitions of the word “sanction” appear contradictory to you? And if they do, do people usually use “sanction” to refer to penalty or approval?

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10 Answers

Arbornaut's avatar

The definitions are contradictory. also cites ‘dust and ‘trim’ as examples of this in the wonderful and easy to understand english language.

Axemusica's avatar

I think this definition said it best

sanction [ˈsæŋkʃən]
1. final permission; authorization
2. aid or encouragement
3. something, such as an ethical principle, that imparts binding force to a rule, oath, etc.
4. (Law) the penalty laid down in a law for contravention of its provisions
5. (Law) (often plural) a coercive measure, esp one taken by one or more states against another guilty of violating international law
vb (tr)
1. to give authority to; permit
2. to make authorized; confirm

So I guess, it definitely means both. Usually means some sort of a permit or approval. It’s funny you chose a Judge as an example because that also helps explain the difference between using it correctly. It all depends on what side of the Law you’re on. If you’ve been arrested, you my in to receive sanction for your crimes. If you’re trying to get married or go about doing construction, you go before a Judge to gain sanction (approval) to do said agenda.

the100thmonkey's avatar

‘Sanction’ is either a polysemous or homonymous word.

My feeling is that the different definitions of ‘sanction’ are polysemes.

marinelife's avatar

Actually , in the second example you mention in the details, the meaning could be the second definition Axemusica lists.

iamthemob's avatar

I agree with @the100thmonkey that the definitions seem like polysemes (AWESOME word – thanks for that one by the way.

There’s a general implication in the word that there is a determinable set of allowed or desired behavior that is being compelled, which is present throughout the definitions.

zenvelo's avatar

“citation” ,“cite”, “cleave” also have contradictory meanings. “The police cited him for his driving” – did he get a ticket, or was he recognized for being an excellent driver.

They are sometime called autoantonyms. Polyseme just means multiple meanings, not as particular as autoantonym.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Like @zenvelo said, “sanction” is an auto-antonym (though I prefer the term “contranym”).

Jeruba's avatar

Yes. I think so because they are (as others have explained so well). Words such as sanction are to the understanding as sweet-and-sour dishes are to the palate: savory precisely because of that delicious contradiction. I love cleave for the same reason.

Arbornaut's avatar

Fantastic answers to a great question. Im no fan of the Queen, but i do love her english. Good language skills go a long way in a world where they are being eroded constantly.

Axemusica's avatar

So @Jeruba, when can I get that sanction from you to proceed ;)

lol, sorry. The flirt’n question is flowing over.

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