The English language is weird.

How can a word have two entirely opposite meanings, one good and one bad?  Well, the word Sanction is one that does.  This is a word that many people don’t use at all in their day-to-day lives.  But its meaning changes, depending on whether it is used as a noun, or a verb, and depending on context.  Yep, it can be used both ways!

As a noun, the word sanction means “a threatened penalty for disobeying a law or rule”.  You may have seen it used this way in a story about the prohibitions put on countries like Iran or North Korea by the US or international bodies. Sanctions prevent countries from accessing the US financial system, or selling their products on world markets, to deny them money.  As in “The USA agreed to lift economic sanctions if the country gave up its nuclear weapons”.

Even as a noun, the word sanction can have another meaning, which may be thought of as good!  It can also mean “official permission or approval for an action”!  As in “the priest appealed to the bishop for his sanction”.  Is your head spinning yet?

When sanction is used as a verb, it means “give official permission of approval for (an action)”.  But it can also be used in the opposite meaning, as in “foreigners in France illegally should be sent home, their employers sanctioned, and border controls tightened.”

So the word sanction can mean either approval, or disapproval, depending on the context.

The English language is weird.  No wonder immigrants have so much trouble learning English.

All definitions and examples above are from the Oxford Dictionary app.

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