By Alan Graner
Normally I write about marketing and marcom, but today I digress. Why? Because I can.
A contronym is a word that is also its antonym, i.e., its own opposite.
According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto-antonym) there are different types of contronyms:
- True homograph—distinct words with different etymologies that are written the same. Example: cleave, which came from Old English clēofan, “separate,” and also from clifian, “adhere.”
- Polysemy—a single word that acquires different and ultimately opposite, senses. Example: “sanction,” which means permit or penalize.
- Differences in national varieties of English—example: in British English when you “table” a bill you put it up for debate. In American English you remove it from debate.
Examples of contronyms
- Anxious: distressed/eager
- Bolt: secure/run away
- Bound: heading to a destination/restrained from movement
- Buckle: connect/break or collapse
- Clip: fasten/detach
- Continue: keep doing an action/suspend an action
- Custom: usual/special
- Dust: add fine particles/remove fine particles
- Fast: quick/unmoving
- Finished: completed/ended or destroyed
- Handicap: advantage (sports)/disadvantage
- Left: remaining/departed from
- Mad: enthusiastic/angry
- Overlook: supervise/neglect
- Pitted: with pits/without pits
- Priceless: very high value/no marked value
- Qualified: competent/limited
- Replace: remove/put back
- Screen: show/hide
- Snap: break into pieces/fasten together
- Transparent: invisible/obvious
- Trim: add/remove
- Vital: lively/deadly
- Water: pour out/take on
- Weather: withstand/erode
- X: select (mark with)/deselect (cross out)
For more examples see:
Daily Writing Tips: “75 Contronyms” http://www.dailywritingtips.com/75-contronyms-words-with-contradictory-meanings/
Fun With Words: “Contronyms” http://www.rinkworks.com/words/contronyms.shtml
Any odd-ball English-isms you’d like to share?
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Alan Graner is Chief Creative Officer at Daly-Swartz Public Relations, an Orange County CA marketing communications firm. When you’re ready for an effective PR campaign, email Jeffrey Swartz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit www.dsprel.com.