Contranyms: words that are their own antonyms

 Acidity  also means ‘alkalinity.’

 Affection means ‘animosity’ as well as love.

 Bent means ‘leveled’ as well as off level.

 Bleach means ‘blacking’ as well as whitening.

 Bless means ‘curse.’

 Bosom means ‘depression.’

 Bride means ‘a spouse of either sex.’

Cleave comes from two words with different origins. ‘Cleave,’ meaning ‘to cling to or adhere,’ comes from Old English cleofian, clifian, or clīfan,‘ while ‘cleave,’ meaning ‘to split or sever (something),’ as with a cleaver, comes from Old English clēofan (with past participles ‘cloven’ or ‘cleft’).

Dust can mean either to add or to remove the thing in question. When you dust are you applying dust or removing it? It depends on whether you’re dusting the crops or the furniture.

Emancipate also means ‘to enslave.’

Fast can mean ‘moving rapidly, as in ‘you run fast,’ or ‘fixed, unmoving,’ as in ‘holding fast’ to your dreams. If colors are fast they will not run. The meaning ‘firm, steadfast’ came first with the sense of ‘strongly, vigorously,’ which evolved into ‘quickly.’

Fill means ‘to pour out’ as well as ‘to pour in.’

General means ‘Admiral.’

Harlot means ‘male menial.’

Help means ‘hinder.’

Host means ‘guest.’

Infantry means ‘a  body of children.’

Inhabited means ‘uninhabited.’

Invaluable means both ‘priceless’ and ‘worthless.’

Juror means both the ‘finder of fact’ and ‘false witness.’

King means ‘queen bee.’

Lap means ‘bosom.’

Law means ‘thieving.’

Left can mean either ‘remaining’ or ‘departed.’ When Victorian gents removed to the drawing room for after-dinner cigars, who was left? (The gentlemen have left and the ladies are left.)

Let means ‘prevent.’

Mankind means both ‘mad’ and ‘savage’ as well as humans.

Moody means ‘brave.’

Nephew means ‘niece.’

Nice means ‘foolish,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘wanton,’ ‘weak,’ and ‘strange.’

Nutty means both ‘crazy’ and’fascinating.’

Off means ‘deactivated,’ as in ‘turn off the alarm but also ‘activated,’ as in ‘the alarm went off.’

Oversight is the noun form of two verbs with contrary meanings, ‘oversee’ and ‘overlook.’ ‘Oversee,’ from Old English ofersēon ‘look at from above,’ means ‘supervise’ (medieval Latin super- ‘over’ + videre ‘to see.’). ‘Overlook’ means the opposite: ‘to fail to see or observe; to pass over without noticing; to disregard, ignore.’

Palace means ‘cellar.’

Practical means ‘unscrupulous.’

Precious means ‘worthless,’ ‘poor,’ and ‘bad.’

Rat means ‘cat.’

Resign meaning ‘to quit,’ is spelled the same as ‘resign,’ meaning ‘to sign again,’ but is pronounced differently.

Sanction can mean ‘give official permission or approval for (an action)’ or ‘impose a penalty on.’

Screen can mean ‘to show’ (a movie) or ‘to hide’ from view.

Seed can also go either way. If you seed the lawn you add seeds, but if you seed a tomato you remove them.

Stone is another to use with caution. You can stone some peaches, but please don’t stone your neighbor (even if he says he likes to get stoned).

Trim can mean either adding or taking away: ‘to decorate something with ribbons, laces, or the like to give it a finished appearance’ or ‘to cut off the outgrowths or irregularities of.’ If you’re trimming a tree are you using tinsel or a chain saw?

Weather can mean ‘to withstand or come safely through,’ as in ‘we weathered the recession,’ or it can mean ‘to be worn away’: ‘the tombstone was weathered.’





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