What’s what and when’s when

Contronyms: In Self-Opposition

You’re probably familiar with the terms ‘antonym’ (a word that means the opposite of another word, e.g. ‘hot’ and ‘cold’) and ‘synonym’ (a word that has a similar meaning to another, e.g. ‘philanthropic’ and ‘benevolent’); but how about the term ‘contronym’?

Also known as an auto-antonym, a contronym (or contranym) is a category of word with different meanings which, depending on the context, can seem contradictory. This makes contronyms a kind of homograph – words that are spelled the same but not necessarily pronounced the same, and have different meanings (if you haven’t read our full post about homophones and homographs, check it out here).
Example: An acquaintance of mine with a plumbing business in Plymouth was explaining to a customer how to ‘plumb-in a kitchen’.  The customer’s 12 year old son appeared 10 minutes later out of breath saying i have searched everywhere and there are no plumbs in the kitchen. Continue reading