Appendix:Glossary of auto-antonyms

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This is a List of auto-antonyms in English -- that is, words which in and of themselves have two or more generally accepted meanings in the English language that directly or generally contradict each other. Such words are also known as antagonyms, contronyms, and words having self-contradictions. 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


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]
awful 
(1) originally used as a term to mean full of awe, even better than awesome (2) now means something exceptionally bad[5]

B[edit]

before 
(1) in advance of ("the future is before us") (2) at an earlier time, previously ("our forefathers came before us")[6]
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. [7]
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" [8]

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.
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 [9]
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.
consequential 
(1) Following as an effect, result, or conclusion; consequent. (2) Having important consequences; significant.
consume 
In regards 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).[8]
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 either to be rambling or freeform (American usage), but also can mean 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".[8]
dusting 
When dusting furniture, this means "to remove dust from"; but when "dusting for fingerprints", or when used as a noun ("a dusting of snow"), it means respectively "to apply dust" or "the application of dust".[8]

E[edit]

egregious 
Adjective meaning outstandingly bad or shocking, while in a different context 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 to "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."[8]
fearful 
Fearful can mean either "causing fear" or "[being] full of fear"[10].
fearsome 
Similar to "fearful," "fearsome" can also mean either "causing fear" or "inclined to fear" [11].
fix 
Fix can mean either "to mend" or it can mean "to break," as in "I'll fix you".
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.

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]

handicap 
Advantage (e.g. in sport) or disadvantage/disability.[12]
hardly
Either barely just, or with extreme power
hew 
"To separate" as well as "to stick (to)" (when used with "to"); cf. "cleave" above.

I[edit]

impassionate 
(1) Strongly affected. (2) Without passion or feeling.

J[edit]

K[edit]

L[edit]

lease 
To lend or 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".
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]

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.
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.[8]

P[edit]

pants 
As a verb, "to pants someone" can mean to either apply or remove pants to/from the 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."[13]
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.
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.) [14]

Q[edit]

qualified 
Can mean "limited" (as in "qualified success") or "skilled, skilful" (as in "a qualified expert").
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"[15]
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"[8]
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.
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.")[8]
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.)
seed 
to plant a field, or to clean seeds from a fruit.[8]
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 inside 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 has "A bug that makes an implementation effectively unusable".[16]
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, or to remove it. "Skin that deer" "Skin that kayak".
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 wrong-doing, i.e. "He seems very suspicious." or can mean that the person in question suspects wrong doing in others, i.e. "He was suspicious of her motives."

T[edit]

table 
As a verb, can mean either (a) to raise an issue for discussion, or (b) to lay an issue aside and discontinue discussion.
temper 
As a verb, it can either mean to soften or mollify, or to strengthen (e.g. a metal).
terrific 
Originally and still used to mean "inducing terror", but has now come to have a positive connotation as well, meaning "fantastic" or "amazing"
trim 
Similar to clip: it 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". [17]

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).

V[edit]

vault 
Can refer to either a small locked box, or the expanse of the heavens.

W[edit]

weather 
Weathering a storm means "to endure" the storm; but generally weathering means "to decay".[18]
wicked 
The strict definition of the adjective is "evil"; the now generally accepted slang usage (barring regional quirks) is roughly equivalent to "very good".
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.

X[edit]

Y[edit]

Z[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 1998-06-01, {{{author}}}, Crazy English, ISBN 0671023233, page 224:
    {{{text}}}
  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. ^ http://encarta.msn.com/dictionary_1861588021/awful.html
  6. ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Before
  7. ^ "bound", in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, p130
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 8.8 1994, {{{author}}}, Watch Your Language: Mother Tongue And Her Wayward Children:
    {{{text}}}
  9. ^ "cleave", in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (1977), p208
  10. ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fearful
  11. ^ http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fearsome
  12. ^ {{{year}}}, {{{author}}}, Making Meaningful Choices in English:
    {{{text}}}
  13. ^ {{{year}}}, {{{author}}}, Making Meaningful Choices in English, page 130:
    {{{text}}}
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ reflexive - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  16. ^ showstopper
  17. ^ Although the word "trying" may have different meanings, "making an effort" is not the opposite of "hard to endure"
  18. ^ {{{year}}}, {{{author}}}, Making Meaningful Choices in English, page 131:
    {{{text}}}