What is a contronym?

2018_06 10 Contronym seed

Contronyms are words that have contradictory meanings, such as:

  • “Dust” can mean “to remove dust” or “to cover with dust.”
  • “Strike” can mean “to hit” or “to miss (as in baseball).”
  • “Moot” can mean “debatable” or “not worth debating.”
  • “Weather” can mean “to withstand a storm” or “to be worn away by weather (or time).”
  • “Screen” can mean “to show something (like a film)” or “to hide something.”
  • “Sanction” can mean “to approve” or “to boycott.”
  • “Apology” can mean “an expression of regret” or “a defense or justification.”

“Fast” and “Bound” are similar contronyms:

  • “Fast” can mean “move quickly” or “unable to move.”
  • “Bound” can mean “heading somewhere” or “unable to move.”

2018_06 Janus

Terms like these are also sometimes called Janus words, named after an ancient Italian deity, regarded as the doorkeeper of heaven and represented as having two faces, one on the back and one on the front of his head. Janus words look both ways thanks to their contradictory meanings. (Incidentally, the month of January is also named after Janus, as it stands at the entrance of the new year.)



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5 responses to “What is a contronym?

  1. Cleave is another. Also the phrase “To take care of ____”
    No wonder English is so confusing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Clip is another; it can mean to join together or to cut apart.

    Liked by 1 person