Stop Or Go?
Off the Wall, April 6, 2017

So there I stood on the top step of the choir loft with basses and tenors, ready to sing one of the all-time Christmas hymns. All eyes were on the choir director just previous to Mass beginning. All of a sudden, she blurted out, “On second thought, let’s just sing the first, second and fourth stanzas, but after the fourth stanza, repeat the refrain.”

Now for us who may be a bit musically inclined, the stanzas are the basic lines forming the verses. The refrain is lines repeated after the stanzas are sung.

I’m reminded of a song by Arlo Guthrie, This Land is Your Land. The first stanza goes like this: “And I went walking that ribbon of highway, And saw above me that endless skyway, I saw below me the golden valley, This land was made for me and you.” The stanza follows: “This land is your land, this land is my land, From California to the New York Island, From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream waters, This Land was made for you and me.” And then the following verses are sung.

I can hear a good number of readers state, “We know that, Pee Vee. Why are you making such a deal about it?”

Let me continue. A coin has two sides, right? Why then should I just expose one? Let the other side be known as well.

Brian Derrian called out to his friend, Gerry Runfasst, “You have to refrain from eating all the leftover meatloaf!”

Is the point of this column starting to surface? On one hand I was instructed by the choir director to move right on from the stanza to the refrain, receiving the “green light” to sing right along, while Gerry was told to stop eating the leftover food.

And believe it or not, both definitions are correct for the same spelling. One Internet website,, gave seventy-five examples of such words called ‘contronyms,’ definitely new to me as well. For practical purposes, I will identify them as “C-words.”

According to, “Both refrains both appeared in English in the 14th century.” It has a Latin derivative that is taken from the verb “refringere.” In the song sense, it implied “break off, stop, and then start all over again.” Hence…the song refrain.

“The other ‘refrain’ carries the basic sense of ‘curb, restrain, abstain or prevent.’ English adopted the word from the Old French ‘refraigner,’ meaning ‘to keep in check; control,’ and the root of that French word certainly bears that out.”

The second website goes on to state, “Refraigner,’ came from the Latin ‘ refrenare,’ meaning to restrict with a bridle,’ as one would a horse. So ‘to refrain,’ etymologically, means to literally ‘hold your horses.”’

But, I have just touched upon one word. There are so many more contronymns.

Take the word ‘bill.’ That’s a “C-word.” It is either a payment or an invoice for a payment. I wonder where the feature of a feeding tool of a duck comes in?

“Hey, Jack! Was Jill bound for the hill?” “No,” he said, I bound her to a fence post so she would not go to get the water.”

“My, my, Barbara. Is it a custom to always wear your hair in pigtails every day? Maybe they aren’t even real and you have to have them custom made!”

Poor Patrick. He spent all day out in the field dusting the crops and then when he got home, his wife insisted that he dust the furniture. For some men, that’s an “on and off” revolting development!

Jock Mortgage was found guilty of slaying Morty Gunridge and was imprisoned for the rest of his life as a result of first-degree murder charges. While there, a fire broke out and he received first-degree burns to his little toe. He was thankful the injury wasn’t severe.

After Tony Bovagatta finished running the 5K race in Boston, he realized that his left shoe was finished, defunct. He had worn out the sole on his sneaker.

“Hey Steve, isn’t that a fine replica of a gun soldiers used in the Civil War? “Well,” Rick said, “If it’s fine with you, it’s fine with me.”

Davey Korneedy loved to play golf. The only problem was that he had a handicap that prevented him equal achievement with the other guys. So, he was given a handicap score that provided him equality.

“Who’s still left?” stated Stan. “Not my buddy, Pee Vee. He’s left the building!”.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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