November 07, 2007

Homographic homophonic autantonymic chants and signs

The current crisis in Pakistan has brought us a class of chants and signs that can mean two opposite things. Thus Stephen Graham, "Pakistan Police to Stop Bhutto Rally", AP 11/6/2007:

In Islamabad, about 200 attorneys held a rally inside the district court, chanting "Go Musharraf, Go" and "No Musharraf, No."

Or "'Go Musharraf Go!'", News24 11/6/2007:

In the biggest gathering, about 2 000 lawyers congregated at the High Court in the eastern city of Lahore. As lawyers tried to exit onto a main road to stage a rally, in defiance of a police warnings not to violate a ban on demonstrations, hundreds of officers stormed inside.

Police fired swung batons and fired tear gas shells to disperse the lawyers, who responded by throwing stones and beating police with tree branches. The protesters shouted, "Go Musharraf Go!"

It's clear from context that this has the opposite meaning -- at least emotionally -- from "Go, Dog. Go!", or "Go Speed Racer, Go!", or "You go, girl!".

As a phrase that can mean two more-or-less opposite things, this is much better than the examples with dust and overlook.

There must be some other political slogans that can mean the opposite of what their users intend, but none come to mind just now. I can think of one advertising slogan with this property: the old Olympia beer slogan "It's the water".

[Hat tip: Andy Hollandbeck.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at November 7, 2007 02:14 PM