Appendix:English contranyms

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This is a list of contranyms in English. A contranym or contronym is a word which has two or more generally accepted meanings in the English language that directly or generally contradict each other. Such words are also known as antagonyms, auto-antonyms, and words having self-contradictions. New items are collected in Category:Contranyms by language. Many such contra-definitions arise from slang usage. Others develop as a result of their frequent use in sarcasm.

A similar concept, where a commonly used phrase contains two words which have or can be construed to have definitions in opposition to each other is known as an oxymoron.

There are two forms of contranyms: homographic, where two words with the same spelling can have opposing definitions; and homophonic, where two words with the same pronunciation can have opposing definitions. In general, the terms below are both homographic and homophonic contranyms.

Richard Lederer included a list of self-contradicting words in a chapter on Janus-faced words in his book Crazy English.[1]

Contents: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Homophonic contranyms[edit]

These phonetic examples are contranyms under different spellings:

raise/raze
build up / cut down
petalless/petalous
without petals / with petals
oral/aural
pertaining to speech / pertaining to hearing

Homographic contranyms[edit]

These examples are contranyms for different pronunciations:

resign
(two pronunciations) cease working for / continue working for

Contranyms[edit]

These examples have both the same spelling and pronunciation:


A[edit]

adumbrate 
(1) To disclose; (2) To obscure[2]
anabasis 
(1) A military advance; (2) A difficult and dangerous military retreat[3]
apology 
(1) An admission of error accompanied by a plea for forgiveness; (2) A formal defense or justification (as in Plato's Apology), also referred to as an apologia [4]
aught 
(1) Anything; (2) Zero, nothing [5]
awful 
(1) Originally used as a term to mean full of awe, even better than awesome; (2) now means something exceptionally bad[6]

B[edit]

back up 
(1) To retreat; (2) to give support, therefore holding your ground.
bad 
(1) Undesirable or unpleasant; (2) (informally) desirable or fashionable.
before 
(1) In advance of ("the future is before us"); (2) at an earlier time, previously ("our forefathers came before us")[7]
berm 
(1) A flat piece of land; (2) an artificial ridge of land. [8]
bill 
(1) A medium of money (e.g. "a $10 bill"); (2) a medium of money owed (e.g. "a bill for $10").
bolt 
(1) To fasten into a fixed position or place; (2) to leave one's current place rapidly, with great acceleration. Similar contrary meanings to 'bound', 'buckle', and 'fast'.
bomb 
Success; failure.
boned 
(1) an adjective describing bones (as in "big-boned"); (2) an adjective, based on the past tense of the verb "bone", meaning that bones have been removed (as in a "boned chicken").
bound 
Not actually a case of a contronym, but a homonym. Webster's has six separate entries for "bound". The first is a synonym for "going", as in college-bound or hellbound, from Germanic buan. The fourth is based on the past tense of "bind", where one is held in place, and not going at all, from Germanic bintan. [9] Note also: moving e.g. homeward bound and unable to move e.g. housebound.
brainstorm 
A success or a failure in the thought process.
break 
An opportunity; a problem.
buckle 
(1) To secure, tighten, hold (by fastening with a buckle); (2) to collapse after being acted upon by an external force, as in "to buckle under the strain" [10]

C[edit]

chuffed 
In British slang this has come to mean "pleased", synonymous to "puffed up"; an older definition, also colloquial is "displeased, upset". Specifically, "chuff" is the sound of exhaust being emanated, as from a train engine.
citation 
A commendation; a condemnation.
cleave 
This is a homophone, where two words, spelled and pronounced alike, have different origins. (1) "To adhere firmly", from Old English clifian. (2) to split (as with a cleaver), from Old English cleofan [11]
clip 
This is a homophone. (1) "to clasp or fasten with a clip", is from Anglo-Saxon clyppan. (2) "to cut or cut off" (with clippers or scissors) is from Old Norse klippa.
commencement 
The beginning; the end.
consequential 
(1) Following as an effect, result, or conclusion; consequent. (2) Having important consequences; significant.
consult 
To give advice; to receive advice.
consume 
In regard to calories, one can consume them by ingesting them, or by expending them.
contemporary 
Contemporary alone means "modern", but with a reference point it may also mean "at a specific time in the past".
continue 
The verb continue means "to keep doing"; however the noun form continuation, in legal usage, means "to pick up later", particularly in the form continuance.
cool 
In commonly accepted slang, cool means happy, pleasant, agreeable; but when referring to a personal interaction, especially in politics, it usually means "less than agreeable" or "polite but strained" (he received a cool reception to his speech).
"could care less" 
This malapropism of the expression "couldn't care less" is often used with its meaning of "to not care at all"; however literally it means "to care at least somewhat".
critical 
Can mean "vital to success" (a critical component), or "disparaging" (a critical comment).[10]
custom 
As a noun, this means "conventional behavior"; but as an adjective, it means "specially designed".

D[edit]

discursive 
In essay structure, it can mean: (1) to be rambling or freeform (American usage); (2) to be strictly structured (British usage).
disposed 
As a past tense verb, disposed means "removed" or "gotten rid of"; as an adjective; disposed means "available".
downhill 
When referring to difficulty, it means "progressively easier"; but when referring to status or condition, it means "progressively worse".[10]
dry 
Having no water (such as alcohol); having no alcohol.
dust 
As a verb, "to dust" can mean either "to remove dust from" (as in "dusting furniture") or "to add dust to" (as in "dusting a cake with powdered sugar"); also commonly used to refer to "dusting for fingerprints."[10]
dyke 
Ditch dug for irrigation, or flood defence built from material dug from ditch.

E[edit]

egregious 
Adjective meaning outstandingly bad or shocking; in a different context it can mean remarkably good.
either 
As an adjective, it can either mean "one or the other of two", as in "you either passed or failed your test" or "each of two; the one and the other" as in "there are trees on either side of the river".
enduring 
Can mean either "long lasting" or "suffering through". In some context this can lead to antonymic word play, as Noam Chomsky pointed out in connection with George W. Bush's name for the war in Afghanistan: "Enduring Freedom".
enjoin 
A verb meaning "instruct" or "command" can be used as "to require" or "to forbid," as in a judicial order -- not really an autoantonym, but fun just the same. Notice that "instruct" and "command" could as easily be pressed into the same service.
eventual 
Current use, applied to a future event or occurrence, means "inevitable, given enough time": "His eventual appointment to the Board..." An older usage, applied in the same situation, means "possible, subject to contingencies".
execute 
To execute a person is to end their life; to execute a program is to start it [Note: This contradiction arises from a shift in meaning of execution in the sense of capital punishment; what is being executed is technically the sentence of death (i.e. it is being started, just like starting a program), but the usage has shifted away from the sentence and to the prisoner]. [RLC 19 July 2007]

F[edit]

fast 
Fast can mean either "to move or do quickly" or it can mean "to not move," as in "holding fast". As an adjective, it can also convey both meanings: "The rabbit is fast;" "The door is fast."[10]
fearful 
Fearful can mean either "causing fear" or "[being] full of fear"[12].
fearsome 
Similar to "fearful", "fearsome" can also mean either "causing fear" or "inclined to fear" [13].
fine 
Fine can mean either "of superior quality", or (informally) "acceptable or satisfactory".
fix 
Fix can mean either "to mend" or it can mean "to break", as in "I'll fix you". (It can also mean to render an animal infertile, which relates to the latter.)
flank 
Flank can either mean to protect the sides of something or to attack the flanks.
for 
As seen on a shampoo bottle, "For oily hair" meaning what you want to get away from; and "For best results" meaning what you want to get to.
fulsome 
Fulsome can mean offensively flattering or insincere, or abundant or copious.

G[edit]

garnish 
With food, the verb means "to add to"; with wages, it means "to take from". (Strictly speaking, though, the intention of the latter is to mean something added to the charges against the wages, alongside insurance, taxes, etc.)
generally 
Usually true, but also subject to exception. The meaning "all-inclusive, without exception" is now obsolete, except in mathematics, where it still occasionally causes confusion.

H[edit]

hack 
A hack can be a clever, ingenious solution; or an ugly, temporary one.
handicap 
Advantage (e.g. in sport) or disadvantage/disability.[14]
hardly 
Either barely just, or with extreme power.
hew 
"To separate" as well as "to stick (to)" (when used with "to"); cf. "cleave" above.
hoi polloi 
The ordinary people; or the fancy or rich people, the elite.
hold up
To hold up can mean to support or aid, or to hinder or impede.

I[edit]

impassionate 
(1) Strongly affected; (2) without passion or feeling.
impregnable 
(1) Impossible to enter; (2) able to be entered and impregnated.
incorporate (adjective)
injoint
To injoint can mean to separate, or to join. (Both meanings are obsolete.)

J[edit]

K[edit]

L[edit]

lease 
(1) To lend; (2) to borrow.
left 
As a past tense verb, it means "to have gone"; as an adjective; it means "remaining".
let 
As a verb usually means "allow"; in an older (but not obsolete) sense it means "prevent".
literally 
In addition to the standard meaning of "word for word", "not figuratively", this has long had an additional, informal usage as a general intensifier for figurative statements.
livid 
Discolored as from a bruise or ashen with shock or dull blue or grayish-blue; reddish or flushed or enraged or furiously angry.
lurid 
Can mean either pale or glowing with color.

M[edit]

mediocre 
It can mean ordinary, neither good nor bad; or rather poor or inferior.
moot 
Formerly and more acceptably meaning "open for discussion, debatable", it is now more commonly used to mean "irrelevant to discussion or debate".
mosey 
It can mean to move quickly; or to move leisurely.

N[edit]

nerveless 
Nerveless can mean fearful and lacking courage, or calm and controlled.

O[edit]

off 
Generally, something being off means it is not operating; however when an alarm goes off, it means it has started operating (or when a person goes off, it means they have become very agitated).
original 
Original either means plain, or unchanged (as in original flavour), or it could mean something creative or new (an original idea).
out 
Similar to off, to take something out means to remove it; but to bring something out is to exhibit it prominently. For instance saying that "the lights are out" means they are not shining, but saying "the stars are out" means they are easily visible.
outstanding 
Exceptional, prominent, excellent; but also unsettled, unresolved, overdue.
overlook 
(1) To watch closely; (2) to fail to notice.
oversight 
When used as a general concept, this word is the noun form of oversee, which means "to manage and be in charge of". But when used to refer to a specific incident, it becomes the noun form of overlook, meaning "error" or lapse in proper management.[10]

P[edit]

pants 
As a verb, "to pants someone" can mean to either to apply pants to or to remove them from their body.
peruse 
Although considered an error by most usage experts, the word peruse is commonly understood to mean "to skim over" or "to glance at". The accepted definition is "to examine closely".[15]
pitch 
[idiomatic] To discard. Also, to promote. A headline from the washingtonpost.com edition of January 6, 2009, reading "Obama Pitches Stimulus Plan" is ambiguous, though the "promote" meaning is intended.
pitted 
Having pits; having pits removed. Do "pitted olives" contain pits?
presently 
Its older meaning is "immediately"; its contemporary meaning is "in a while".
priceless 
Usually it refers to something so valuable that no price can be set; but it can also mean worthless.
public 
As a noun, it refers to the common people of a society; however as an adjective, it normally refers to things operated by the government. (Of course, such government operations are maintained for public use. Furthermore, under representative democracy, the people and the government are considered one and the same by definition.) [16]. In the UK, the term public school refers to a type of private school.
put out
To put out can be to create or produce, or to extinguish (a flame) or injure.

Q[edit]

qualified 
Can mean "limited" (as in "qualified success"); or "skilled, skilful" (as in "a qualified expert").
quantum leap 
In technical usage, the smallest measurable increment; informally, a radical change.
quiddity 
Can mean either the essence of a thing, or a quibble.

R[edit]

reflexive 
Can mean "marked by reflection" or "characterized by habitual, unthinking behavior"[17]
rent 
Can be used to mean paying to use something, as in "I'm renting an apartment", or used to mean taking money to let someone else something of yours, as in "We rent cars to anyone, no questions asked."[10]
replace 
Can mean "to restore to a former place or position" (e.g. "I replaced the old rug after washing it"), or "to put something new in the place of" (e.g. "I replaced the old rug with a new one"). Ambiguous sentence: "When the brakes are worn-out, take them out and replace them."
reservation 
As a concrete noun, this can be "a confirmation" of availability; as an abstract noun, it is "a fear or uncertainty".
resign 
When someone resigns a contract (transitive) he commits to continuing his involvement in some activity. On the other hand, when he resigns (intransitive) he relieves himself of that commitment. The former is sometimes hyphenated (i.e. re-sign) to emphasize its pronunciation and differentiate the pair. For example, to resign from work is to end the work, while to resign oneself to work is to give up all hope of ending the work.
revolting 
(1) As a participle, rebelling; (2) as an adjective, repulsive or disgusting.
rhotacism 
Can mean overuse of the letter R, or the inability to pronounce it.

S[edit]

sanction 
"To permit"; or "to restrict" (as in "economic sanctions").[10]
scan 
Originally, this word meant "to examine closely"; but has come to mean "to look over hastily".
screen 
Conceal with or as if with a screen; or "to display prominently" as in screening a film.
secreted 
Usually obvious due to context; but this can mean either "hidden" (secreted away), or "exposed" (secreted from a wound). The former is the verb form of "secret", and is pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable. The latter is the past tense of "secrete" and is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable. (This would not be a contronym, but a homograph, where two words from different roots are spelled the same, but pronounced differently.)
secular 
Worldly, not eternal; or, lasting for many years [18]
seed 
To plant a field, or to clean seeds from a fruit.[10]
seeded 
With seeds; or without seeds.
several 
Originally meaning "separate, single, or individual" (as in "the several states" referred to in the US Constitution), it is now understood to mean "plural, more than two".
shed 
To put into a shed (as in "I'm going to shed the lawnmower for the winter"), or to remove (as in "the snake shed its skin").
shelled 
Shelled can describe either the result of removing a shell (e.g., we shelled the hazelnuts) or describe something that has a shell (e.g., turtles are like shelled snakes with legs) or describe the act of adding shells (the USS Nimitz shelled Baghdad).
show-stopper 
In the standard usage, this means "something that is strikingly attractive or has great popular appeal". Recent usage particularly in the computer industry means "something catastrophic" (often a bug that makes an implementation effectively unusable).[19]
sick 
Used with a standard definition, this word can mean "disgusted; revolted", but used colloquially, it can mean "very pleasant; agreeable".
sinople 
A color word that can mean either green or red, depending on usage.
skin 
To add skin (e.g. "skin that deer"), or to remove it (e.g. "skin that kayak").
slave 
To work like a slave; drudge or to engage in the slave trade; procure, transport, or sell slaves.
stakeholder 
Historically and legally means to hold (but not have an interest in) a stake; however, the term is now sometimes used, especially re corporate governance, to reference one who does have an interest in an issue.
stay 
Can mean stopping an action ("stay the execution"), or to continue an action ("stay the course" - note: the original meaning of the phrase "stay the course" was in the first sense; that is, to stop the course of action).
strike 
Normally meaning "to hit", in baseball it means "to miss", and an extension of this usage has led to the meaning "to make a mistake". Further adding to the contradiction, in bowling it refers to the best possible play. Another contradiction results with the phrase strike out: the baseball lineage leads to the meaning "to run out of hope"; but the original lineage also leads to the meaning "to start pursuing a desire".
suspicious 
Can mean that a person is acting in a way that suggests wrongdoing (e.g. "He seems very suspicious"); or can mean that the person in question suspects wrongdoing in others (e.g. "He was suspicious of her motives.")

T[edit]

table 
(1) To raise an issue for discussion (more common in the UK); (2) to lay an issue aside and discontinue discussion (more common in the US).
targeted 
As an adjective, it can mean either "aimed at" or "being aimed at".
temper 
(1) To soften or mollify; (2) to strengthen (e.g. a metal).
terrible 
(1) Formidable; (2) lousy.
terrific 
Originally and still used to mean "inducing terror", but has now come to have a positive connotation as well, meaning "fantastic" or "amazing".
throw out 
Can mean either to "to discard" something or "to offer an idea".
trim 
Can mean "to add decoration to" (trim the (Christmas) tree); or "to remove from" (trim the bushes).
tripping 
A fluid effortless motion; or the act of falling due to an unforeseen obstacle.
trying 
As an adjective, 'hard to endure'; as a verb, 'to make an effort'. A teacher's report may say, "Your child is trying". [20]

U[edit]

unbending 
Rigid, inflexible, refusing to yield or compromise, as in "his stance against reform was unbending"; or becoming less tense, relaxing, as in "unbending a little, she confided..."
unshelled 
Not removed from their shells (adjective); or having been removed from their shells (the past tense and past participle of "to unshell"). The ambiguity therefore arises when in the adjective is used predicatively, as in "The eggs were unshelled", which can mean "The eggs had not been removed from their shells" or "The eggs were removed from their shells" (someone unshelled them).
unthawed 
Frozen (adjective), as in "you can't cut unthawed meat"; to thaw, unfreeze (verb, North American English), as in "She unthawed the meat before cutting it".

V[edit]

vault 
(1) A small locked box; (2) the expanse of the heavens.

W[edit]

weather 
To weather a storm means "to endure" the storm; but generally to weather means "to decay".[21]
wicked 
The strict definition of the adjective is "evil"; the now generally accepted slang usage (barring regional quirks) is roughly equivalent to "very good".
wind up 
(1) To start; (2) to finish.
with 
Can mean 'against' or 'in opposition to', e.g. The United States fought with Great Britain in the War of 1812. Also denotes a close association between two or more participants, e.g. The United States fought with Great Britain against Germany in World War II.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lederer, Richard (1998-06-01) Crazy English, Revised edition, Pocket, →ISBN, page 224
  2. ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Adumbrate
  3. ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Anabasis
  4. ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Apology
  5. ^ https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aught
  6. ^ http://encarta.msn.com/dictionary_1861588021/awful.html
  7. ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Before
  8. ^ https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/berm
  9. ^ "bound", in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, p130
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 10.8 Gorrell, Robert (1994) Watch Your Language: Mother Tongue And Her Wayward Children[1], University of Nevada Press, pages 61-63
  11. ^ "cleave", in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (1977), p208
  12. ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fearful
  13. ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fearsome
  14. ^ Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, Barbara (1998), “Dynamic Perspective on Antonymous Polysemy”, in Rainer Schulze, editor, Making Meaningful Choices in English[2], pages 132-134
  15. ^ Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, Barbara (1998), “Dynamic Perspective on Antonymous Polysemy”, in Rainer Schulze, editor, Making Meaningful Choices in English[3], page 130
  16. ^ The comparison of a noun to an adjective is not a contradiction, and as noted, the adjective derives from use by the persons described in the noun.
  17. ^ reflexive - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  18. ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/secular
  19. ^ showstopper
  20. ^ Although the word "trying" may have different meanings, "making an effort" is not the opposite of "hard to endure".
  21. ^ Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, Barbara (1998), “Dynamic Perspective on Antonymous Polysemy”, in Rainer Schulze, editor, Making Meaningful Choices in English[4], page 131

External links[edit]