Sunday, April 14, 2013


I relish contranyms: words spelled the same with an opposite set of meanings. A contranym is a word with a homograph (word of the same spelling) but also an autonym (word with opposite meaning). Confusing? Synonyms for contranym are: antogonym, Janus word, and auto-antonym, antilogy, and enantionymy. [RELISH, the second word in this article is just a poor homonym.]

This week Wordsmith (see below) published five contranyms: secrete, peruse,
second-guess, discursive, and impregnable.

My list of favorite contranyms:

cleave (to cut apart)
cleave (to seal together)

yield (produce)
yield (to concede)

bound (moving as in Bound For Glory)
bound (tied up)

off (deactivate)
off (activate, alarm went off)

left (remaining)
left (having gone)

refrain (not act upon)
refrain ( repetitive, as in music)

fast (moving quickly)
fast (fixed in place)

sanction (permit)
sanction (punish)

back (back someone)
back (move back)

handicap (disabled)
handicap (advantage given in sports)

oversight (not noticed)
oversight (monitoring)

fight (be against something)
fight (fight for something)

shell (have a shell)
shell (to remove shells)

awful (worthy of awe)
awful (something bad)

ravel (combine thread)
ravel (separate thread)

overlook (miss)
overlook (afford a view)

dust (remove dust)
dust (apply dust, as in dusting cookies)

cut (get out of school)
cut (get into a line)

moot (arguable)
moot (not worth of argument)

clip (to attach)
clip (cut off)

buckle (hold together)
buckle (to collapse)

weedy (overgrown)
weedy (stunted)

citation (award)
citation (penalty)

skin (cover with, as a drum)
skin (remove, as animal skins)

weather (to endure)
weather (erode)

with Anu Garg

In French, the word hôte can mean either host or guest. That may sound like a recipe for confusion, but context is everything. If you are checking into a Paris hotel and the contract they ask you to sign says that hôte is responsible for all charges, you can be confident that they mean the guest. French is not the only language with these contranyms. Words with contradictory meanings exist in most languages. The English equivalent of the above word, host, once had two contradictory senses as well; the "guest" meaning died out over time. But don't despair, we have many more. This week we'll look at contranyms.


verb tr.:
1. To discharge or release.
2. To conceal; to keep secret.

CLICK HERE to read an article on NPR entitled Having It Both Ways With Contranyms.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How about MANDOLIN (the musical instrument) and MANDOLIN (your brother's fancy gadget that makes julienne strips)? ML