Thanks to Deb Helfrich for suggesting this post about contronyms!

For all who think words don’t matter — that’s not YOU, right? — I offer some proof that they do using a few words taken from an article I recently shared that you might not have seen.

Let’s start with antonyms, which are words that are opposite in meaning to another, such as good and bad, hard and soft, night and day, big and small. There’s not often much confusion about what is meant using each of those — right?

But contronyms (also known as autocontronyms) are a whole other deal! Each word can mean more than one thing that is directly opposite to another of its own meanings!

Here are just a few words that caught my eye in the article, but you can see the list in the link here.

3. Left can mean either remaining or departed, those who stayed or those who went away. If the gentlemen have withdrawn to the drawing room for after-dinner cigars, who’s left? (The gentlemen have left, and the ladies are left.)

8. Cleave is a homograph, a word with different meanings and origins that ends up spelled the same. Cleave can mean to cling to or to adhere (she cleaved unto him); it can also mean to sever (think cleaver). (More in the original article.)

11. Off means deactivated (to turn off) but also activated (the alarm went off).

13. Screen can mean to show something, such as a movie) or to hide something, such as an unsightly view. (The movie was screened as scheduled, and the unfinished section of the theater was simply screened from view.)

19. Go means to proceed, but also to give out or fail. (This car could really go until it started to go.)

wicked contronymNow one that’s not on that Mental Floss list is wicked, but folks who live anywhere near Boston, Mass., know that wicked is both not nice and awesome! I mean, “Wicked Pissah” is a favorite saying!

For more definitions of all the words above and in the article, check out — a valuable online resource that includes information from several dictionaries.

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