A Wall Street Journal headline from May 7, 2019 reads

Pence to Announce U.S. Will Lift Sanctions on Venezuela Gen. Manuel Cristopher Figuera After He Broke Ranks With Maduro

What does will lift sanctions means in this expression? I thought that lift sanctions would mean increase sanctions over something. Apparently it's the opposite.

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  • 'move something from a lower to a higher position' - I don't think it's the meaning here. – grc May 7 at 21:04
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    scroll down...it also means "end"..." to end a rule or law: "The restrictions on water usage have been lifted now that the river levels are normal."..."At last they've lifted the ban on jeans at the club." – Cascabel May 7 at 21:05
  • Ok, "Lift" means "to elevante" or "to end". – grc May 7 at 21:06
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    By way of explanation: sanctions (or any rules) are metaphorically considered a "burden" on the person affected; when you lift the sanctions/rules you remove the burden. – StoneyB May 7 at 21:07

Your assumption is totally reasonable. Lift definitely does have the meaning you're thinking of:


1 a : to raise from a lower to a higher position : elevate
b : to raise in rank or condition
c : to raise in rate or amount

But it also has this other meaning:

3 : revoke, rescind
// lift an embargo


In the case of "lifting sanctions," this other meaning is employed. How do we know that it's this latter meaning and not the former? Only because "lifting sanctions" is a common phrase and it always has this meaning.

Also note, in case this wasn't annoying enough, that sanction can have essentially opposite meanings:

How did 'sanction' come to have two opposite meanings?

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