Definition:Contrary Statements/Linguistic Note

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Linguistic Note on Contrary Statements

In the context of contrary statements, the word contrary is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable: con-tra-ry.

There is a different usage of contrary which means, of a person, perversely inclined to disagree or to do the opposite of what is expected or desired. In this context, the stress is on the second syllable: con-tra-ry, making it rhyme, conveniently, with Mary, hence the children's nursery rhyme:

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

which, it has been suggested, may have been written as a social satire on the reign of either of the 17th-century queens in Britain: Mary, Queen of Scots or the thoroughly reprehensibly evil Mary I of England.