We’ve all heard of synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms, but recently I came across an article about ‘contronyms’, which I'd not heard of before. These are words which, depending on the context, can have opposite meanings. Sometimes they’re called ‘Janus words’ from the Roman god with two faces looking in opposite directions.
The more I studied some of these words, the more fascinated I became – and the more I realised how difficult the English language must be for people learning the language.
I stood on the large rock, and I started to rock back and forth.
In this case, rock means an immovable mass of stone, and also means a shaking movement.
He dusted the crops; she dusted the furniture.
Dust can mean to add something e.g. fine particles of fertilizer or similar - or it can mean to remove the particles of dust that have settled on furniture etc.
Bound with chains, he sat on the deck of the ship that was bound for the West Indies.
Bound = restrained from movement and bound=moving towards a destination.
He was convicted of first degree murder, although the victim only had first degree burns.
With murder, it’s the most severe type; with burns, the least severe.
The aid workers gave out the food, until the supplies gave out.
Give out can mean provide, or no longer be available.
The gentlemen left, and the ladies were left in the dining room.
Left= departed or remained.
The more you think about these the more interesting it becomes.
Consider these words:Have a think about these:
Fast – meaning stuck, or moving quickly
Screen – show a movie, or hide something
Oversight – overseeing something, or overlooking something
Bolt – to secure or to flee
Hold up – to support or impede.
And for today’s homework :-), think about how these words can be used as opposites:
Isn't the English language wonderful?