Auto-antonym: words that are their own antonyms

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An auto-antonym (sometimes spelled autantonym), or contronym (also spelled contranym), is a word with a homograph (another word of the same spelling) that is also an antonym (a word with the opposite meaning). Variant names include antagonymJanus word (afterthe Roman god), enantiodromeself-antonymantilogyaddad (Arabic, singular didd). It is a word with multiple meanings, one of which is defined as the reverse of one of its other meanings. This phenomenon is also called enantiosemyenantionymy or antilogy.

Examples:

  • “All but” can mean “except for” or “almost entirely”.
  • “Apparent” can mean “obvious” or “seeming, but in fact not.”
  • “Awful” can mean “worthy of awe” or “very bad.”
  • “Besides” means “other than; except for; instead of”, but can also mean “in addition (to).”
  • “Buckle” can mean “fasten securely” as in “buckle your seat belt”, or it can mean “collapse by bending” as in “buckle under pressure.”
  • “Check” can mean “an amount of money given to an individual” (e.g. a paycheck) or “an amount of money an individual owes to another party” (e.g. at a restaurant).
  • “Chuffed” can mean “displeased; disgruntled” or “pleased; satisfied.”
  • “Citation” can mean “commendation” or a “summons to appear in court.”
  • “To cleave” can mean “to cling” or “to split.”
  • “Custom” can mean “standard” (shorthand for customary) or “tailored.”
  • “Discursive” can mean “covering a wide field of subjects; rambling” or “proceeding to a conclusion through reason rather than intuition.”
  • “Down” can mean both “good” (as in “The wine goes down.”) and miserable.
  • “To dust” can mean to remove dust (cleaning a house) or to add dust (dust a cake with powdered sugar).
  • “Egregious” can mean “outstandingly bad” or in archaic writing “remarkably good.”
  • “Enjoin” can mean “command” and “forbid.”
  • “Fast” can mean “moving quickly” as in “running fast,” or it can mean “not moving” as in “stuck fast.”
  • “To fight with someone” can mean “to fight against someone” or “to fight alongside someone.”
  • “For” as a preposition can mean to be “in favor of” (“I’m for peace”) or “against” (“take aspirin for a headache”).
  • “To go off” can mean “begin to make a sound” (“the alarm went off”) or “stop operating” (“the alarm will go off after one minute”).
  • “Impregnable” can mean “able to be impregnated” or “incapable of being entered.”
  • “Inflammable” technically means “capable of burning” but is commonly used to mean “unburnable”.
  • “Left” can mean “to depart” or “to remain.”
  • “Literally” can mean “word for word, not metaphorically or idiomatically”, but is also often used informally as an intensifier for figurative statements, ending up roughly synonymous with “virtually, figuratively.”
  • “Near miss” used to mean “to barely miss”, but literally means “to hit”.
  • “Nonplussed” can mean (of a person) “surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react”, but is often used informally as “not disconcerted; unperturbed.”
  • “Off” can mean “deactivated” as in “to turn off”, or it can mean “activated” as in “the alarm went off.”
  • “Original” can mean “first” as in “the original painting” or something completely new “an original work”
  • “Out” can mean “available” as in “the latest model is out” or “unavailable” as in “Sorry, we’re out”.
  • “To overlook” can mean “to inspect” or “to fail to notice.”
  • “Oversight” (uncountable) means “supervision”, “an oversight” (countable) means “not noticing something.”
  • “To peruse” can mean “to examine in detail”, or “to look over in a cursory manner.”
  • “Radical” can mean “related to roots or origins” such as “radical leaves” or “breaking from tradition” as in “political radicals.”
  • “Ravel” can mean to combine thread or to separate it.
  • “Refrain” means both non-action and the repetition of an action, e.g. in musical notation.
  • “To rent” can mean “to borrow from” or “to lend to.”
  • “Resigned” can mean “to have signed again” or “to have quit”. The former is sometimes hyphenated as re-signed.
  • “To sanction” can mean “to permit” or “to punish.”
  • “To screen” can mean to show or to hide.
  • “Shelled” can mean “having a shell” or “has had the shell removed.”
  • “To skin” means “to cover with skin” (as in to skin a drum) as well as “to strip or peel off” (as in to skin an animal).
  • “Snuff” can mean a specific kind of tobacco, as well as to inhale it, and to extinguish.
  • “To stay” can mean “to remain in a specific place, to postpone” or “to guide direction, movement.”
  • “Stem-winder” means “a rousing political speech” but can also mean “a long, boring speech.”
  • “To stint” means “to stop”, but the noun “stint” refers to the interval of work between stops.
  • “Strike” can mean “eliminate” (“to strike from the record”) or “to secure” (“to strike an accord”).
  • “Strike”, in baseball terms, can mean “to hit the ball” or “to miss the ball.”
  • “Stroke” as a verb means “caress” while as a noun, “a forceful hit.”
  • “Terrific” can mean “very good” or “very bad.”
  • “To toast” can mean to invite praise or to reprimand.
  • “Unpacked” can mean full or empty (in reference to boxes, luggage, etc.).
  • “Weather” can mean “to endure” or “to disintegrate.”
  • “Weedy” can mean “overgrown” (“The garden is weedy”) or stunted (“The boy looks weedy”).
  • “Wicked” can mean “evil or morally wrong”, or can colloquially mean “excellent.”

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