I actually felt like playing house today and had the energy to do it, so I dry mopped then wet mopped the floor and dedusted all hard surfaces.

Yes, I know — dedusted is not a word, but it should be. The way the word stands, “dust” as a verb is the opposite of itself. For example, when snow dusts the ground, it means that a light coating of snow was deposited on the ground. Some cookie recipes require you to dust the finished cookie with powdered sugar, which means to putting a light coating of sugar on the cookie. I dusted today, but I did not leave a coating of dust on the ground. In fact, the rooms were already dusted with a powdering of dirt particles. So, see? When I cleaned off that dusting, I dedusted. If I had redusted, then I could say I dusted the room, but I didn’t add another layer of dust; I removed what was there.

Look at it a different way: if you bug a room, you place electronic bugs in the room. If you debug the room, you remove the bugs. If you code a text, you put that text into code. If you decode it, then you remove the code to reveal the plain text. If you clutter a room . . . You see where I am going with this.

It is interesting to me though, that a whole slew of words mean the opposite of themselves, not just “dust,” as I pointed out here, but “cleave,” which means both to cling and to unite and “trim” which means to add something or remove something. In fact, there are so many such autoantonyms, they have their own category name: contranyms.

I just realized that spell checker didn’t underline dedust, so I looked it up, and lo and behold, it is a word, and means exactly what I said it should — to remove fine particles and to free something of dust. Who knew? Not me, obviously, because I thought I was being so very clever and whimsical. The truth sort of puts the kibosh on this whole essay, but I’m posting it anyway because whether I dusted or dedusted, the house is clean.


Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.