Noun. Mid-20th century.
A word with two opposite meanings.
Few things in the English language are more fascinating than the contronym, a word that holds two contradictory meanings. And what's really bizarre is that the average English speaker won't even notice their existence - not even blinking at the notion that an engine that's gone may have left to go somewhere, or it may be completely broken. And even if it's left, has it left to go or is it left behind? Thus, in celebration of these cunningly contrary contronyms, here is a list for you to puzzle over:
In the past, or in the future?
"Regardless of what happened before, your future is before you."
Not sharp, or straight to the point?
"I told him bluntly: Your knife is blunt."
To flee, or to secure?
"He bolted the door before he bolted."
With bones, or having had the bones removed?
"I prefer my boned fish to be thoroughly boned."
Tied up, or heading toward?
"While I was bound with rope, he was bound for home."
To fasten, or to collapse?
"After buckling his belt, his knees buckled."
Indefinite, or definite?
"Are you certain she has that certain something?"
To split, or to join?
"As the axe cleaved the monster's skull, the terrified villagers cleaved together in horror."
Relaxed and informal, or frosty and tense?
"My stuffy parents have a cool relationship with my cool boyfriend."
Removing dust, or applying it?
"While the maid dusted the bedroom, the detective dusted the hallway."
To start, or to kill?
"The general executed his orders by executing the prisoners."
Moving quickly, or completely stuck?
"The fast car was stuck fast in the mud."
To run, or to break?
"This car's about to go."
To support, or to impede?
"Holding up my drunk wife is holding me up."
Departed, or remained?
"When the police left, we were left."
On, or not on?
"The alarm went off."
Watching over, or failure to watch over?
"Not giving me oversight was an oversight."
Capable, or limited?
"While qualified, he only got a qualified endorsement from the board."
Somewhat, or absolutely?
"He's quite handsome."
To pay rent for, or to rent out?
"I'm renting a flat."
To ban, or to approve of?
"The UN officially sanctioned sanctioning the rogue state."
To remove stones from, or to hurl stones at?
"He was stoned for stoning the Sacred Peach."
Arousing suspicion, or suspicious of others?
"The detective was suspicious."
To soften, or strengthen?
"Tempering metal is a great way to temper your temper."
Doing one's best, or hard to endure?
"Your child, while trying, is trying."
A selection, or one of a kind?
"I'd rather have a variety of apples than this variety of apple."
Against, at one's side or using?
"I fought with my brother."
Do you know of any other contronyms?
Do please leave your most ambiguously equivocal comments in the box below.