Cultural Watch

Word of the Day – contranym

(DICTIONARY.COM)

Contronym / kon-truh-nim / noun

DEFFINITION

A word that has opposite or nearly opposite meanings, as cleave, meaning “to adhere closely” and “to part or split”; Janus word.

CITATION

“No, totally.” “No, definitely.” “No, exactly.” “No, yes.” These curious uses turn “no” into a kind of contranym: a word that can function as its own opposite.

KATHRYN SCHULZ, “WHAT PART OF ‘NO, TOTALLY’ DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?” THE NEW YORKER, APRIL 7, 2015

ORIGN

Contranym, “a word that has opposite or nearly opposite meanings,” is a good term to have though trotting it out in certain circles may spark debate about whether it should be spelled contranym (from contra– and –(o)nym), an example of prodelision (loss of an initial vowel), or contronym (from contr(a)– and –onym), an example of elision (loss of a final vowel). Contranyms are also called Janus words (Janus was the Roman god of doorways, beginnings, transitions, and time, and is usually portrayed as having two faces, one looking toward the past, the other toward the future). Some very common, current contranyms (or Janus words) include sanction “to authorize, approve, or allow” and “to penalize, discipline” (the Latin verb sancīre means both “to ratify solemnly, confirm (laws, treaties)” and “to make an offense punishable by law”); the verb cleave “to split, divide” and “to remain faithful to” (cleave derives from two different Old English verbs: cleofian “to adhere, stick” and clēofan “to separate, split”); and oversight “supervision (as by a Congressional committee),” and “omission, mistake.” Contranym entered English in the early 1960s.

Source: https://www.dictionary.com/e/word-of-the-day/contranym-2019-09-14/?param=wotd-email&click=ca77rh&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Live WOTD Recurring 2019-09-14&utm_term=WOTD