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quite the contronym

October 27, 2009

A contronym is a word that is an antonym of itself. Any others come to mind?


  1. Secure. Be sure to bolt the door when you leave.
  2. Run away. Seeing the Grizzly bear, the hunter bolted.


  1. Separate.  Cleave the steak into two parts, and put it on the grill.
  2. Adhere. Leave your father and mother and cleave to your wife.


  1. Add fine particles. The cookies were dusted with sugar.
  2. Remove fine particles. I hire a cleaning lady to dust my furniture.


  1. Remaining. There are only three cookies left.
  2. Departed from. When I arrived, the bus had already left.


  1. Visible. I hope the stars are out during our camping trip.
  2. Invisible. During the thunder storm, all the lights went out.


  1. Error. The typo in the newspaper was an unfortunate oversight.
  2. Care. Under his oversight, the project flourished.


  1. Worn. The captain’s weathered face looked grim.
  2. Endure. The ship weathered the storm and stayed afloat.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2009 5:53 pm

    this post just blew my mind. i had never heard of a contronym before. DARN YOU, public school!!! you’ve failed me again!!!! (well, not to be confused with failing a class or anything. i haven’t been failed THAT way.)

  2. October 27, 2009 7:47 pm

    They didn’t read you any Amelia Bedelia books?

  3. October 27, 2009 8:33 pm

    Amelia Bedelia!!! That’s so funny! That’s exactly what I was thinking of when I was reading the post in my Reader! I so distinctly remember the confusion regarding her “drawing” the drapes. Not a contronym to add to this good list, but a clever Amelia Bedelia moment nevertheless. 🙂

  4. October 27, 2009 9:14 pm

    Definitely have not ever thought of this before! Totally blew my mind, as well. How did I miss this all these years???

  5. October 27, 2009 9:24 pm

    As a Bolt, I’m offended and a little weathered.

  6. October 27, 2009 9:57 pm

    I know I’ve ‘discovered’ one before, but it’s eluding me at the moment.

    Good stuff. Way to go for educating your readers as you entertain.

  7. October 28, 2009 6:54 am


    1. as in, “I’m bad, I’m bad, I’m really really bad.” -Michael Jackson

    2. as in, “I’m bad, I’m bad, I’m really really bad.” –John Piper


    1. To add some green (i.e., parsley)

    2. To take away some green (i.e., wages)

    Deceptively Smart:

    1. Smarter than one appears (i.e., space monkeys)

    2. Dumber than one appears (i.e., Clifford the big red Dog)

  8. Kari permalink
    October 28, 2009 7:18 am

    Totally thought of Amelia Bedelia as I was reading…apparently I’m not the only one!

  9. Mary Claire permalink
    October 28, 2009 7:22 am

    No contranyms to add, but what about words that look like they should rhyme but don’t, such as daughter and laughter, tone and done, or tough and bough. It’s a wonder non-(American)English speakers can learn our language at all.

  10. October 28, 2009 8:22 am

    Good one, Jess!

    I have never thought of these English ‘contronyms’ – but I will never forget when I was first learning Swahili and came across the word “bado”. It means both “already” and “not yet” I was completely dumbfounded as to how a word could possibly mean two opposites. After trying it in several sentences, I realized that the context would always tell you which meaning. It never occured to me that we had such a thing in English.

  11. October 30, 2009 8:49 am

    great ones, ched!

    okay, this isn’t one, but i got a netflix trial offer in the mail. and then i started singing to brent, “when the trial comes, and all hope seems lost…”

    so there’s a good trial (yay, free stuff!) and a bad trial (boo, hard circumstances!)?

  12. November 29, 2009 11:47 pm

    I thought of another one!

    Temper as a noun is a flare up of anger.
    She’s got a fiery temper.
    The verb means to soften or tone down something.
    The glass of milk helped to temper the jalepeno’s affect upon my mouth.

  13. Davy permalink
    October 23, 2010 8:04 pm

    Not sure how I missed contronyms my studies. Good one!


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