We already know that many words have multiple meanings and spellings, making English just a little bit complicated to learn. But did you know there’s a name for words that have seemingly opposite meanings? They’re called contronyms, and chances are you use them more often than you think. Take a look below and see how often these contrary words pop up in your everyday language.
Are you stuck in one place or springing forward? Bound can mean tied up or restrained, but it can also refer to heading to a destination, as in, “I’m homeward bound.”
Once you see the two varying meanings of this word, you can’t unsee it. Transparent can refer to something that is invisible to the eye – like glass. Yet it can also refer to something plainly obvious, like a piece of salacious news or a key fact.
The most exquisite, opulent and luxurious items in the world may be described as fine – fine furs, fine furniture and fine silks, for example. By the same token, a satisfactory or just good enough performance or item may be deemed fine with a dismissive shrug or C grade on a paper.
Fasten up or fall apart with this two-sided contronym. We tend to buckle up when securing ourselves in, like in a vehicle. But in a moment of weakness our knees may buckle, causing us to collapse.
This one’s a fun mix of hide and seek. You may screen off something you want to keep it private, or screen someone’s phone calls for a similar reason. We also use screen to highlight big, public displays, like announcing you’re going to screen your new movie for an audience. You definitely don't want to mix up the two.
We seem to have gotten mixed up in how we applied this term legally and medically. In a murder case, first degree refers to the most severe type of charge. Meanwhile with a burn, first degree is actually the mildest.
When a lot of us think custom, we think one-of-a-kind or bespoke. Yet custom also relates to the ordinary, everyday customs, habits, and hobbies many of us practice, making this word extraordinarily ordinary.
There are two ways to look at this expression: coming or going. We may throw out an idea as a way to introduce something to a group. And if it’s not well-received? That same group may throw it out, as in trash or dispose of it.
You might be used to clipping things in – like seatbelts, carabiners, or backpacks. But other folks will tell you that clipping is all about taking things out – like hair or nails.
No matter which way you slice it, this word refers to something that’s done – but in two different senses. Something could be finished, as in completed or whole, like the draft of a novel, or building a house. But it can also refer to something that’s destroyed or over – like a relationship.