Some words are just weird. You think you're using them correctly, but then there's that moment of doubt. Does that word mean something else entirely? One of the ironies of the English language is that occasionally, both meanings are correct — even if they're wildly different.
A contronym (also called a contranym or an autoantonym) is a word with two meanings that happen to be the opposite of each other. Specifically, according to the grammarly blog, "a contronym is a word with a homonym (another word with the same spelling but different meaning) that is also an antonym (a word with the opposite meaning)."
Contronyms are also sometimes referred to "Janus words" after the two-faced Roman god. Here are 30 contronyms and their contradictory, two-faced definitions.
To separate by fleeing or to hold together (as with a bolt)
Going toward a destination or restrained from moving
To fasten together (with a buckle) or to bend or collapse from pressure
To adhere firmly and closely or to split apart
To fasten (as with a paperclip) or to detach with shears (clipping your hair or your hedges)
To give advice or to get advice
A common practice or a specially made item
Dust off your dictionary. Some words (like dust) can have clashing meanings. (Photo: d8nn/Shutterstock)
To cover something with a fine power or to make something clean by brushing or removing dust
To order someone to do something or to prohibit someone from doing something
Firmly fixed and unmoving or able to move rapidly
Completed or destroyed
To add decorative touches (to food or drink) or to take/withhold from (as in wages)
An advantage given to equalize chances of winning (as in golf) or a disadvantage that makes equality difficult
To rent property or to offer property for rent
Departed or remained behind
The original, perfect example or a copy
Not operating (turn off the light) or operating (the alarm went off)
Visible (the stars are out) or invisible (the lights are out)
To watch or to fail to notice
Watchful, responsible care or a mistake made due to forgetfulness or poor supervision
To skim or to read very carefully
To separate or to become entangled
To lease something or to offer an something for lease
To boycott or to approve
To hide or to show (like a movie)
To add seed ("seeding the lawn") or to remove seed ("seeding a watermelon")
To hit or to miss while trying to hit
To add (decorations) or to take away (extra hair or fabric, for example)
To endure or to deteriorate
To withstand or to be worn away
Related on MNN:
- 15 obsolete words we should still be using
- Are there really 50 Eskimo words for snow?
- Does the language you speak influence how you think?