What Are Contronyms?
The English language is ambiguous. Between grammar rules, writing styles, present tense, passive voice and all the other rules out there, it can be hard to keep track of how we’re supposed to write for audiences. To make things even more difficult, there are words that don’t mean what we intend for them to mean. Or do they? These words, called “contronyms” are words with two meanings.
Here are some examples of just how confusing contronyms can be:
- Seed: You can seed the lawn, by adding seeds, but if you seed a pepper you remove them.
- Stone: You can stone some peaches, but I wouldn’t recommend you stone your enemy. We can’t bail you out of jail.
- Off: This can mean to turn a device off, but it can also mean to turn a device on. You can turn your car off, but if you hit the wrong button then the alarm system will go off.
- Clip: Clip can mean “bind” or “separate.” You clip sheets of paper together or separate part of a page by clipping something out.
- Out: This can mean “visible” or “invisible.” For example, “It’s a good thing the full moon was out when the lights went out.”
- Toss out: It could be either “to suggest” or “to discard.”
- Help: Help means “assist,” unless you can’t help doing something, then it means “prevent.”
- Fast; Fast can mean “moving rapidly” or “fixed” as in “holding fast.”
- Continue: This usually means “to persist”, but as a legal term it means stop a proceeding temporarily.
- Screen: This can mean “show” or “hide.”
What are some contronyms you know? Let us know your favorite one!