Literally* the problem of the birds and the bees. I was asked the other day about why different kinds of birds can’t mate. And it’s a question that seems to divide people. Some people seem to think the answer is really obvious and others seem to think that they probably can.
This seems to all stem from a strange feeling that people have that birds might be a species rather than a class. So some people think that you can kind of go: cats, dogs, birds in a list and that this would be a sensible list. But it’s not really true. You would be able to go: cats, dogs, chickens. These are all animals or species of animals, but the first list contains a class. So you should go, mammals, birds.
In fact birds are more diverse a class than mammals and yet we wouldn’t think of cats and dogs mating (although I once met a person who thought that cats are female dogs but they were stupid). Compare a hummingbird to an emu would you think they could mate? (Although a lot of people think that emus and ostrich are closer to mammals than other birds they are still closer to dinosaurs than mammals actually.
*There was a story during the first world war of a village that wanted to show that it had more food and supplies than it actually had so that they enemy wouldn’t want to attack it. But all they really had was one cow so they painted the cow a different pattern every day. The first time I heard somebody talking about this story was when they were talking about a painting of this incident. And this they had to say was a painting of a person literally painting a cow. It’s a great example of somebody using literally correctly, because literally has become now an autoantoym which means that it means the opposite of itself. Other examples are dust. To dust can mean to remove particles from something and can also mean to add particles to something (first like cleaning, second like cooking). Literally means in actuality something and also can mean figuratively something. So you can use literally to say explain how when you translated something into English you translated it word for word, “he translated it from the Latin literally”. Or you can use literally to make a metaphor stronger, like “he was literally ready to explode”. The second meaning came about by accident and shouldn’t really be acceptable as far as I’m concerned.
There are more here: http://www.fun-with-words.com/nym_autoantonyms.html