Wednesday, July 05, 2006


An autoantonym is a word or phrase that has two distinct and opposite meanings. They can also be referred to as 'Janus words', after the two-headed Roman god, or 'antagonyms' or 'contranyms'.

Some examples:

ARGUE: assert/deny.

BUCKLE: to pull together/to fall apart.

CLEAVE: to cut apart/to join together.

CLIP: to attach/to cut off.

DOWNHILL: a better direction/a worse direction.

DUST: to remove deposits/to deposit, erm, deposits.

FAST: moving quickly/constrained from moving.

FIX: a predicament/a solution.

LEFT: here/not here.

PIT: a solid core/a hole.

PRESENTLY: now/after some time.

QUITE: completely/not completely.

REFRAIN: repeat/stop.

REPLACE: restore to position/remove from position.

SANCTION: to allow/to ban.

SCAN: to read carefully/to read quickly.

SECRETE: to reveal/to conceal.

SECURE: to protect from being taken/to obtain from.

SCREEN: to show/to hide.

SKIN: to cover/to remove covering.

SPARE: extra/not much.

TRIM: remove/add.

(Thanks to Conrad for the idea)


ConradGempf said...

As you know, I disagree with some of these... for instance "No problem; it's all downhill from here" and "And bam; that's when it started going downhill" look like phrases in which "downhill" means opposite things. In fact, however, "downhill" merely means "a trend which will continue on its own momentum". "Downhill" is therefore no more than an autoantonym than the word "trend" itself which could be good or bad. The interesting thing is not it can go either way but how indirectly the context reveals whether it's positive or negative.

You might be interested to know that "quite" doesn't really carry the two meanings in the USA. "Quite" always intensifies the adjective there, whereas here, at least in some places, "quite" seems to mean what Americans would mean by saying "almost." When I first arrived in Scotland, I said that the food at a party was "quite good" meaning the American "very good;" the reactions on the faces told me that I'd been understood as having said something quite different (very different): "quite good" meant "short of being good." An American who meant that would certainly say "not quite" to express this.

brett jordan said...

Thanks for the comments Conrad... what you don't realise is that 'Kwitegud' is a popular Scottish brand of dog food. I'm guessing that's why you got funny looks, rather than for the reason you have assumed.

ConradGempf said...

...might be... Shanese thought it mighta been because I picked up the chicken to eat with my hands and burped out loud after my second can of Budweiser (we brought our own but offered to share), but your theory makes more sense to me.

brett jordan said...


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