What is it with English and all of its words that have opposite or near opposite meanings, like ‘dust’ or ‘seed’, for instance?
These contranyms are yet another reason why people find English so difficult to learn. These pesky contradictions are also called Janus words after the Roman god of two faces, Janus, known as the god of beginnings and endings, and of doorways.
You’ll find some sample contranyms below. And, to muddy the mix, many of these words have additional meanings beyond those listed.
Something that happens every year, or, in the case of garden plants, something that lasts for only one growing season.
To lock in place, or to dash away at full speed.
Tied up, can’t move, or on the way somewhere.
To adhere closely, or to split apart.
To grasp tightly, fasten, or to cut off.
A well-established, commonplace tradition, or something unique, created particularly for you.
A large amount – picture something gelatinous being plopped on your plate – or a small lump of something.
To gently sprinkle on light particles, eg: luster dust in baking, or to wipe away, well, dust.
Top quality, excellent, or so-so, meh.
To condemn, to beat with an implement, or to sell or promote relentlessly.
Still there, remaining, or departed, gone.
To oversee, keep an eye on, or to ignore.
To pay to gain use of something, or to allow others to gain use of something if they pay you.
To officially approve, or to officially penalize for contravening a rule or law.
To offer something for viewing, e.g. a short film, or to hide something from view.
To plant seeds, or to pull out the seeds.
Perfectly obvious, or so sheer you can see through it.
To add embellishments, or to clip away excess.
Header: John Mark Jennings