Saturday, August 20, 2016

Opposites and contronyms

English is a weird language, but that’s why it’s so much fun. A particular favorite of mine, grammatically speaking, is the contronym.

The contronym (also spelled “contranym”) goes by many names, including “auto-antonym,” “antagonym,” “enantiodrome,” “self-antonym,” “antilogy” and “Janus word” (from the Roman god of beginnings and endings, often depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions. That’s how January was named – looking back to the previous year and forward to the new one).

“Dust” is a good example of a contronym. The forensic specialists dust your furniture (add dust to it) to check for fingerprints. Then you have to dust the furniture to remove the dust.

“Fast” is another one. The Olympic athlete ran very fast holding fast to his javelin, then threw it.

And how about “garnish”? You garnish the salad by adding parsley or mint to it. But if you garnish someone’s wages, you take money away from them.

For a lot more examples check out: and which has some great examples including “refrain” which can be something repeated over and over (the refrain of a song) or to not do something.

Happy reading.

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

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