Monday, June 29, 2015

A Word That Means Its Own Opposite is not a Politician: It's a Contranym


We touched briefly on the idea of contranyms last week through the gradual morphing of the word terrorism’s initial 18th century definition into the one that now contradicts it. In the case of terrorism, it’s not really a contranym; it’s a word that grew to mean its virtual opposite. Contranyms are chameleons. Depending on where they are, they can become wholly different, even opposite things.

You can garnish wages or a swordfish dinner. One is amelioration and the other is diminishment. Troy can rent an apartment to Julian, and Julian can rent an apartment from Troy. Seems fair, right? Aught ought to mean one thing, oughtn’t it? It doesn’t mean one thing at all. In fact, it can mean everything or the digit zero. And when you provide oversight on a project, you try to catch any oversights.

Here are a few more to ponder:

Consult
Skinned
Quantum
Dust
Left
Fast

Have fun with contranyms! You can find lists of them all over the web. Some are cheesy and weak, but some are unbelievably weird.