Contronyms

Peculiarities of English language never cease to amaze me. Whether it’s about grammatical rules or the use of unusual and difficult words that’s now given a new sobriquet of “Tharoorian” after our very own Shashi Tharoor.

I always wonder as to how the same word can be used in absolutely contrarian contexts. For example – the word oversight. It’s one use is – “ Army’s strict oversight of LOC has ensured that terrorists do not infiltrate into our country from across the line.” Its absolutely contrarian use will be – “ The terrorists could sneak into our country due to oversight by patrolling guards.” Oversight means strict vigil as also slackness of vigil.

Another interesting word that readily comes to mind is cleave. It means both – to cling or adhere as also to sever. For example – “ Though they have an interfaith marriage yet each of them cleaves to his/her own rituals and festivals.” On the contrary cleave can also be used in the sense – “ The party is cleaved by internal differences”.

And I am sure my readers would have come across several such words in their day to day usage. Some of these are quite common such as sanction ( approval and embargo), dust ( as in dirt and removal of dirt) , consult ( offer or obtain advice) etc. However, what at least I didn’t know was that such words were called contronyms as these words are their own antonyms.

What readily comes to mind in our Hindi is the use of the word aage or in front. I have seen this word being used by people in both the contexts as in – “ Aage to aisa nahin hota tha ( such things never happened in earlier days)” and “ Aage aage dekhte hain hota hai kya ( let’s see what future has in store)”. Isn’t aage an absolute contronym?

I welcome more such feedback.

6 thoughts on “Contronyms

  1. Fabulous article with amazing facts and research on language. We often come across however never collated such contronyms. I think it is due to immense usage of language which make some words contronym, moreover audience is also at now a days at ease to apprehend and choose correct meaning. Tharoorian was appropriately coined word for current generation.

    Rightly Said by Your Goodself.

    Like

  2. Wonderful and thought provoking Sir. Something we never actually minutely observe in normal course.
    One word which now comes to my mind is “Finished”, which we often use for having completed a task as well as is used when there is the fear upon not having completed something.

    Like

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