Contronyms

In the English language, what's a type of word that is its own opposite?

And the answer is: contronym.

Photo courtesy: grammarly.com

When used as a verb, the word "overlook" is a good example of a contronym. If someone overlooks a factory, that means they monitor or inspects the factory. However, if someone overlooks an error in a budget, that means they failed to notice the error. Other examples of contronyms include the words "dust" and "sanction."

Contronyms are words that can mean opposite things in different contexts. Contronyms often arise in one of two ways. The first is simply that two words with opposing etymologies merged over time, while their application remained dependent on context. Or, a second method traces one word that accrued opposing usages over time. No matter how the specific contronym came to be, their usage in the English language is nearly ubiquitous, and its meaning is inferred through the surrounding sentence. Here are a list of some contronyms you may not have identified as such:

  1. To buckle. One meaning of the word can indicate a fastening, or securing. Ex: "She buckled her seatbelt." However, buckle can also mean to fall, or succumb to pressure. Ex: "My legs buckled under the weight of the heavy box."
  2. To screen. One may "screen" their face from a bright light or an unforeseen change in weather, but they may also go see a movie that's being "screened." In one instance, "screen" suggests protection, or hiding of something, and in the other instance it is to view, or display something.
  3. To bolt. "He bolted from the scene," or, "I bolted the door shut." Bolt can mean to flee, or to lock in place.
  4. To hold up. While it can mean to support an object, it also indicates an inhabitance or prevention.

What's your favorite contronym? Leave a comment below to let us know. And, check out this site to learn more.  


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