[Home]Contradictanym

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A word with two opposite meanings, depending on the context in which it's used.

Examples:
Screen
To show (as in a film) or to hide (something from someone)?
Dust
To remove fine particles (dust the furniture) or to add fine particles (dust the cake with icing sugar)?
Custom
Something common to many people, or something uniquely modified?
Qualified
Limited (as in qualified success) or skilled (as in fully qualified)?
Fast
Moving quickly or fixed securely?
Critical
Disparaging of something, or vital to it?
Pitted
With pits, or with pits removed?
Draw (the curtains)
Open them, or close them?
'Pull them across, leaving them in the opposite position to the one they're in.'
Cleave
Split (e.g. a rock) or join (e.g. in marriage)
Rent
You can be the hirer or the hiree.  Offering something for rent is often "renting it out", but the "out" can be missed out  in many idiomatic circumstances. --M-A
Isn't this just a question of direction (assuming you mean the verb) eg rent a from b, rent a to b --Garbled
Yes, but the point is that the same verb rent is used in both cases, whereas normally in English there is a separate complementary word: buy from/sell to, give to/take from, etc. I suppose you could argue that the separate verbs are the anomalies. Some languages have one ("contradictanym") verb for learn/teach, where English has two. --Rachael
Unless you're Badger. --CH
Original
Old ("I prefer the original to the cover") or new ("this art is really fresh and original")
No; both mean 'the first of its kind'. --n-r
I know; I thought the point was to find words which can be spun so as to have two contradictory meanings, not just the subset of those where they can't be explained. --Rachael
I thought it was to find words which actually do have two contradictory meanings, like 'dust', rather than performing contortions to 'spin' them as being such. If you're not strict about an exercise like this it loses all point. 'Original' doesn't and never has, meant 'old'. --n-r
Well, there's a spectrum. Words like "before" and even "older" can end up meaning in either direction in time (if I'm talking about my memories, "an older year" might mean one further ago than the one under discussion, or one when I was older, i.e., a more recent time). But "original" clearly has meanings in two almost-directly-opposite senses, so does belong on this list. And, as with so much of ToothyWiki, just because you don't see the point doesn't mean other people can't enjoy it. --AC
Except that it doesn't have two meanings in almost-directly-opposite senses. In the first example sentence it does not mean 'old', it means 'first'. 'I like original music' doesn't mean 'I like old music'. Tell you what, if you can think of an example where 'original' clearly means 'old' and can't be replaced by 'first', then I'll believe you.
I'm not questioning the point: even by the rules you've set yourselves, 'original' doesn't belong on this list, any more than 'synecdoche'. --n-r
Sanction
Permit, or impose restrictions?
Quite
Entirely, or somewhat?

Literally
Actually true, or not actually true
This only works if 'context' is allowed to include whether or not the speaker understands what they're saying, so we could include pretty much anything.  --SGB

For the etymologically minded, it can be quite fun to speculate as to how they acquired these opposite meanings. In some cases (eg Dust, Qualified) it's quite obvious; but less so in some other cases...
Mostly, it seems, it's that they sprang from a noun.  Not always though - custom and critical confuses me.  Pitted is just evil, since it's word drift from pipped.  --Vitenka
Cleave is two seperate roots that have drifted together -- Senji

An interesting example in many languages including French and Japanese is that the words for "host" and "guest" are the same.
In English they come from the same root --Rachael

--Garbled believes that cleave should properly be cleave (a) to b and cleave a from b. Similarly rent (a) to b and rent (a) from b. Or maybe it is the point that verbs in english are not self contained, and need their directional terms to sort transitive from intransitive.

SeeAlso [Contranym], WikiPedia: Auto-antonym, [JEH Smith on Autoantonymy], and [a rather large list of contradictanyms] on WikiPedia, although many of them are at least as dubious as Synecdoche.



CategoryLanguage
NoLongerWordOfTheDay

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