An auto-antonym, also known as a contranym, is a word that has two opposing meanings. It has a homograph (a word of the same spelling) that has a contradictory or opposite meaning. They usually result from the word, or similar sounding words, arriving in English from two separate languages and retaining both meanings. However, sometimes they are a result of a old word taking on a new colloquial meaning.
Here are some examples:
Cool can mean good or pleasant, but it can also mean less than agreeable. Compare the following:
‘The play was cool.’
‘The play received a cool reception.’
Dusting can mean removing dust or, in the case of fingerprints, applying dust.
Fast can either mean to do something quickly or not to move at all as in ‘holding fast’.
Left is another: ‘after he left she was left.’ It means both to go and to remain.
Weather as a verb has the contradictory meanings of withstanding and wearing away.
‘They weathered the storm.’
‘It was weathered by the storm.’
For your writing, it is worth being aware of auto-antonyms so that you can spot any usage that might be confusing. Additionally, you can purposefully use words with contradictory meanings to give ambiguity or intrigue to your text. This is sometimes seen in poetry.
Can you think of any other auto-antonyms or good examples of their usage? Tell me in the comments!
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