Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Word Nerds: Contronyms


I was quite chuffed, having received quite a positive response from my Kangaroo Words post.

And there it was—another strange lexiconical usage of a word. You see “chuffed” (British slang) can mean one is pleased or displeased. It becomes its own antonym. These words are known as “contronyms.”

Here’s a list to get a better idea:

bolt – to secure; to run away

cleave – separate, adhere

clip – fasten, detach

custom- usual, special

dust – add fine particles, remove fine particles

enjoin – prescribe, prohibit

fast – quick, unmoving

fix – restore, castrate

garnish – enhance (e.g., food), curtail (e.g., wages)

give out – produce, stop production

handicap – advantage, disadvantage

left – remaining, departed from

mean – average, excellent (e.g., “plays a mean game”)

out – visible (e.g., stars), invisible (e.g., lights)

put out – extinguish, generate (e.g., something putting out light)

quite – rather, completely

ravel – tangle, disentangle

sanction – approve, boycott

screen – show, hide

table – propose (in the United Kingdom), set aside (in the United States)

unbending – rigid, relaxing

weather – withstand, wear away

Talk about shades of ambiguity! Then again it keeps people on their toes to pay closer attention to the context to better understand the content.

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3 thoughts on “Word Nerds: Contronyms

  1. I had never heard this term before but had thought about the concept a few times. Interesting, Pam!

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