11 More Words That Are Their Own Opposites

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Thanks to all who took the time to comment on last week’s list of contronyms. Some of your suggestions were already lined up for this sequel, but the first word below was good enough to bump another term from the queue.

1. Bitch

In a comment under last week’s story, reader Shawn Ravenfire pointed out that “bitch” can refer to a woman who is considered overly aggressive or domineering, or it can refer to someone passive or submissive.

2. Clip

Clip can mean "to bind together" or "to separate." You clip sheets of paper to together or separate part of a page by clipping something out. Clip is a pair of homographs, words with different origins spelled the same. Old English clyppan, which means "to clasp with the arms, embrace, hug," led to our current meaning, "to hold together with a clasp." The other clip, "to cut or snip (a part) away," is from Old Norse klippa, which may come from the sound of a shears.

3. Continue

Continue usually means to persist in doing something, but as a legal term it means stop a proceeding temporarily.

4. Fight with

Fight with can be interpreted three ways. “He fought with his mother-in-law” could mean "They argued," "They served together in the war," or "He used the old battle-ax as a weapon." (Thanks to linguistics professor Robert Hertz for this idea.)

5. Flog

Meaning "to punish by caning or whipping," flog shows up in school slang of the 17th century, but now it can have the contrary meaning, "to promote persistently," as in “flogging a new book.” Perhaps that meaning arose from the sense ‘to urge (a horse, etc.) forward by whipping,’ which grew out of the earliest meaning.

6. Go

Go means "to proceed," but also "give out or fail," i.e., “This car could really go until it started to go.”

7. Hold up

Hold up can mean "to support" or "to hinder": “What a friend! When I’m struggling to get on my feet, he’s always there to hold me up.”

8. Out

Out can mean "visible" or "invisible." For example, “It’s a good thing the full moon was out when the lights went out.”

9. Out of

Out of means "outside" or "inside": “I hardly get out of the house because I work out of my home.”

10. Peer

Peer is a person of equal status (as in a jury of one’s peers), but some peers are more equal than others, like the members of the peerage, the British or Irish nobility.

11. Toss out

Toss out could be either "to suggest" or "to discard": “I decided to toss out the idea.”

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April 10, 2013 - 3:35pm
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