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A Word about Contranyms—or Contronyms

The Grammar Floozy’s Guide to Chicago Manual of Style 5.250

Synonym, Antonym, Homonym

Most of us learned about synonyms and antonyms before sixth grade. Synonym is so much more fun to say in Latin (synonymum) or Greek (synonymon) but either way, the word means “same name” or “a word which means pretty much the same thing as another word.” Antonym (think anti-hero) means “opposite name” or “word which means the opposite.” Homonyms—like there, their, and they’re—sound alike but don’t mean the same thing.

What’s a Contranym—or Contronym?

The word contronym (as spelled in the Chicago Manual of Style)—or, in the spelling preferred by auto-correct, contranym—comes from the Latin contra (against). Sometimes referred to as “Janus words,” after the ancient Roman deity with a double face, contronyms have multiple meanings in direct opposition. Over a hundred contronyms exist, both in English and in other languages.

Examples of Contranyms—or Contronyms

Cleave – to hold tight OR to sever

Oversight – to watch closely OR to not notice

Aloha – (Hawaiian) hello OR goodbye

Apology – a statement of defense OR a statement to acknowledge guilt

Dust – to sprinkle tiny particles OR to remove tiny particles

What’s your favorite contronym/contranym?

(Yes, both spellings are correct.)

You have official sanction to add to the conversation. Don’t worry, we won’t sanction you if you don’t have time to participate. (See what I did there?)

In case you’d like to dive into a Research Rabbit Hole, these two links will get you started.