Opposites Of Themselves: Contronyms
When we were small, we all learned what the word opposite meant by contrasting things, like light and dark. We knew that black was the opposite of white, and big was the opposite of little. But now that we’ve grown up, our vocabulary has grown up, too (at least, we hope it has!).
Enter a new term: contronym
The dictionary defines it thus: a word with two opposite meanings, e.g., sanction (which can mean both ‘a penalty for disobeying a law’ and ‘official permission or approval for an action’).
So a sentence can get really confusing, like this one: “Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.” It can mean that the agency oversaw the corporation’s behavior and penalized it, or it can mean that due to the agency’s error, it approved the corporation’s actions.
Today is Opposites Day.
Let’s celebrate by looking at ten examples of words that are their own opposites.
- Seed – you can ‘seed the lawn,’ which is to add seeds, or you can ‘seed the tomato,’ which is to remove seeds.
- Trim – like seed, it can mean to add to or to take away. You trim the Christmas tree with ornaments, or you trim the Christmas tree by cutting part of it off.
- Off – the alarm went off, so I turned it off. To activate and to deactivate.
- Screen – you can screen the movie, or screen something from view. To show or to hide.
- Clip – similar to ‘trim,’ it can mean to add to or to remove from. You clip the papers together, but you clip the coupons.
- Go – When she walks she really goes, until her strength starts to go. To proceed or to give out.
- Hold up – to help or to hinder. Thanks a lot! When I’m struggling, you’re always there to hold me up.
- Out of – I can’t wait to get out of my house, but I work out of my home. Inside or outside.
- Dust – to remove or to add. I dusted the furniture before I dusted the strawberries with sugar.
- Overlook – to monitor (inspect) or to fail to notice. The teachers overlook our science experiments, but they overlook our spelling errors.
Want to have more fun with opposites? Try this dictionary. Just enter a word or phrase and get the opposite!