Same word, opposite meaning ~ The Linguistics Zone

Monday, October 08, 2007

Same word, opposite meaning

There exist many words whose meanings are opposites of themselves.

You may ask, How can a word be an antonym of itself? Through polysemy and homonymy, a word that is pronounced or spelled the same way can have opposite meanings. A word that is an antonym of itself is called a contronym.

A commonly known contronym one is dust (verb). The two opposite meanings of dust are:
1. remove fine particles: Please dust the drawers to keep them clean.
2. cover with fine particles: He dusted the cookies with sugar.

Seed (verb) is another one:
1. remove seeds from: Seed the watermelon before eating.
2. distribute seeds; to sow seeds

To "X" something is a phrase often used colloquially. Here are its opposite meanings:
1. select: X your desired items on the list.
2. cancel/eliminate: Please X out the items you don't want.

518 comments:

Siddhaswarup said...

Never heard of Contronyms before!
That's pretty interesting all right.

TigerTom said...

Arrggghh! My poor head! I'm going to have to sit down and re-read that again. I didn't know such words existed.

Nice to see an educational blog for a change.

Jagad Guru das said...

Now that was interesting.
You reminded me of a children's book I read when I was young...the name escapes me, but it was about a new maid. The owners of the house left her a list of things to do like:
Dust the house
Draw the curtains
Put out the lights, etc.

Anyway, so the maid found some dusting powder and sprinkled it all over the house, made a drawing of the curtains, and put the lights out of the house.

It was quite a funny book and made me think about the use of language.

Arjen said...

Never heard of contronyms before thus I am so happy that I came across this post.

Thanks for the info.My friend, who is an English teacher and who plans of refinancing mortgage, will surely love this information.

Matthew Anton said...

this post is awesome..i been reading tons of crap posts from other blogs, but shows you have a more educated reader base. My gf is becoming a teacher and little things like this impress people

djahna said...

That's actually what happens when you turn a noun into a verb., It usually takes on a different meaning, sometimes even the opposite.

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contronyms is new to me and very interesting.same word different meaning and sometime opposite.very educative.

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Looks you are a very educated person and trying to teach them to others, thats is very good. To me it looks pretty tough need to reread. Thanks anyway.

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This mind-breaking contronyms, never heard of it. This is truly something. Good work.

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Anonymous said...

I've got two more for you:

"To Table" can mean put on a table or to take off a table

"To Temper" can mean to harden steel or to soften steel

MXI said...

Its debatable whether or not English is the hardest language to learn, but it definitely has the most nuances, in my opinion.

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Same word but different meaning and sometime opposite.

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that was interesting.

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intresting, would not have thought about it that way myself.

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Thats pretty cool. Have you got any more of them?

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Contryonyms- never heard of them.

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Ladies Watches said...

I think I know the childrens book jagad is talking about - it was something like "Maid in England"

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You can apply this rule to many words an the results are the same.

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Las Vegas Bankruptcy Lawyer said...

I've been fascinated by language like this forever, but I never knew there was an actual term describing it!

Anonymous said...

the book you were tlaking about it amelia bedila

Mexican Breakfast Food said...

Like for example Job and Job. Name and activity.

Anonymous said...

This was a question on jeopardy tonight. Thank you for the info.
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EduLists said...

contronym is the word of day here. Usually words like off, out are added to contradict.

Anonymous said...

How about discrimination?

Gloria said...

So glad this phenomenon has a name. I've thought of cleave and sanction.

Anonymous said...

Clip - to attach or detach - e.g. clip papers together or clip coupons

Breitling said...

This was absolutely interesting...this is the first time I have heard of the term contronyms.

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Pete said...

Cleave, To split apart, also means to bring together.

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From the very childhood I am afraid of these words.. I have suffered a lot for these words.

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Anonymous said...

Awesome.Words in our English Language are phenomenal in terms of their usage.Your blog is quite educational and gives us a different perspective to the way we use grammar in everyday life as well as the ever changing rules of English.Thanks a million.

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We don't realize it, but even our little actions when we are speaking to somebody mean something.

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I've read that nearly 40% of communication is through tones. People tell you more with how they say it, than with what they say.

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good post
do i get more examples
and the "X" used in example is not understood(am from india)

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