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Contronyms are like peanuts. You can't stop reaching for them. After recent columns discussed self-contradicting words such as "dust" -- you dust a table with powder, you dust it to remove the powder -- the mail poured in.

If someone tells you to slow up, writes David L. Cowen, it means the same as if you'd been told to slow down. Bill Seaton observes that if a prospective employer hands you an application form, half the time you are asked to fill it in and half the time to fill it out.

Sue Leven likes the by-play of spoiled and fresh. "When a child is spoiled, he quite often is fresh as well. However, when produce is spoiled, it definitely is not fresh." One of Dell Texmo's favorites "is 'boned' and 'deboned,' both of which mean boneless. Spell check, by the way, doesn't recognize 'deboned' at all, and suggests 'debunked.' "

A word doesn't have to be a perfect contronym to be contradictory. Terry Wine writes that when one of her sons sang an annoying jingle, the younger son asked her to "make him stop." She turned to the elder son "and said, 'Would you please refrain . . .?' Smart-aleck fifth-grader grinned and, without missing a beat, replied, 'Oh, you want me to sing it again?' " Opposite of begin the beguine: Refrain from the refrain.

In response to a column that said "clear the runway" can be interpreted either as "get off the runway" or "get the snow off the runway," Roy Turner offered a British example so famous that a 1991 film used the tragic punchline as its title.

"In the early 1950s in Croydon," he writes, "a policeman confronted two young men, one of whom had a gun. When the police officer demanded the surrender of the gun, the other man reportedly said, 'Let him have it,' at which point the gunman shot and killed the policeman. At trial the claim was made that 'let him have it' clearly urged the surrender of the weapon, though it could have been heard just as easily as 'shoot him.' "

Jim Richardson pitches in with a magic act: visible and invisible transparency. The computer boffins announce they will be installing a new version of a software program and assure their colleagues "that the changeover will be transparent for most users; i.e. we won't know anything has happened; there will be nothing new to learn; the upgrade will be invisible unless we are very sophisticated users of the software.

"Meantime, our faculty union asks management to implement a more transparent process for budgeting and/or appointing vice-presidents/presidents etc.; i.e. every step in these processes should be highly visible to everyone in the university community."

Remember The China Syndrome,the film about an accident at a nuclear reactor, with Jack Lemmon as a distraught employee? Louis Desjardins remembers a Saturday Night Live parody with Ed Asner in Lemmon's role. "As I recall, there was a problem with fire in the reactor core, but before turning on the fire extinguishers, they decided to check the operations manual. It said: 'You can't put too much water on a nuclear reactor.' "

Exactly. Are you encouraged to flood the thing, or warned not to? Who invented this language anyway?