Words that have two opposite meanings?

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Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Envelope Generator » Sat Dec 07, 2013 7:35 pm UTC

Fearful is such a word in English. Are there others?
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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Angua » Sat Dec 07, 2013 7:39 pm UTC

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Glossary_of_auto-antonyms

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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Envelope Generator » Sat Dec 07, 2013 7:51 pm UTC

Thanks! I didn't know there was a word for that. I guess you can lock this one.
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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Dthen » Sat Dec 07, 2013 8:51 pm UTC

Egregious.

EDIT: Oh, I see, there's a great big list right there. Well, I feel silly now.
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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Eebster the Great » Tue Dec 10, 2013 10:03 pm UTC

Envelope Generator wrote:Fearful is such a word in English. Are there others?

I don't think "frightened" and "frightening" are antonyms, though, anymore than "nauseating" and "nauseated" as meanings of "nauseous." True antonyms would be "frightened" and "emboldened" or something like that.

A good auto-antonym is "cleave," which I'm sure is already in the list.

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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Lazar » Tue Dec 10, 2013 10:43 pm UTC

One non-English example that interests me - it's not an auto-antonym stricto sensu, but somewhat self-contradicting in context - is Korean han, which means "Chinese" in the term hanja ("Chinese characters"), but means "Korean" in the contrasting term hangeul ("Korean script").

Also, the extensive phonemic mergers of medieval Greek (tl;dr: everything becomes /i/) caused the first and second person plural pronouns, humeis and hēmeis, to sound identical. They made new pronouns emeis and eseis to get around this, but the problem still remains when reading the classical(-ish) Greek of the New Testament using modern pronunciation, as is traditionally done.
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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Eebster the Great » Wed Dec 11, 2013 12:41 am UTC

Somewhat off-topic, but I've always found that phenomenon interesting in its own right--when words in a language merge, creating a need for new words. In Latin, the verb fero, meaning "carry" or "bear" took on the third and fourth principal parts (perfect tense and supine) of tollo also meaning "carry. " This created the irregular verb with principal parts fero, ferre, tuli, tlatum (the t was later dropped to give latum), which meant tollo needed new forms. So it took the third and fourth principal parts from suffero ("carry under"): sustuli and sublatum. I guess the word suffero just fell out of use.

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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby mathmannix » Wed Dec 11, 2013 9:11 pm UTC

I was always somewhat confused by this running joke in the musical Hello, Dolly!:

Hello, Dolly! wrote:Chocolate-covered peanuts. Unshelled. They're the expensive kind.


Does it mean
(A) the shells were removed from the peanuts before the chocolate coat was added, which would definitely be a plus, and worth paying for,
(B) the shells were NOT removed (the peanuts were not shelled) before the chocolate coat was added, which would be bizarre and not taste as good, but hey, that's what rich people pay more money for,
or even
(C) the peanuts were coated in chocolate INSIDE the shell, which would be a much more difficult process, completely impractical, and thus expensive?
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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby SlyReaper » Wed Dec 11, 2013 9:25 pm UTC

Not in that list is "inflammable", meaning both flammable and not-flammable.
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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby mathmannix » Wed Dec 11, 2013 9:28 pm UTC

SlyReaper wrote:Not in that list is "inflammable", meaning both flammable and not-flammable.


I think only people who don't know what "inflammable" means use it to mean "not flammable", but that is how words receive canonical new meanings over time in the English language.

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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Eebster the Great » Wed Dec 11, 2013 11:30 pm UTC

mathmannix wrote:I was always somewhat confused by this running joke in the musical Hello, Dolly!:

Hello, Dolly! wrote:Chocolate-covered peanuts. Unshelled. They're the expensive kind.


Does it mean
(A) the shells were removed from the peanuts before the chocolate coat was added, which would definitely be a plus, and worth paying for,
(B) the shells were NOT removed (the peanuts were not shelled) before the chocolate coat was added, which would be bizarre and not taste as good, but hey, that's what rich people pay more money for,
or even
(C) the peanuts were coated in chocolate INSIDE the shell, which would be a much more difficult process, completely impractical, and thus expensive?

Good one. "Shelled" is an autantonym.

Presumably the joke was that chocolate-covered peanuts would necessarily be "shelled" (shells removed), because if the shells were not removed it would be pretty pointless and unappetizing (B), and the shells can hardly be put back on (C).

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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby WanderingLinguist » Thu Dec 12, 2013 10:20 pm UTC

Lazar wrote:One non-English example that interests me - it's not an auto-antonym stricto sensu, but somewhat self-contradicting in context - is Korean han, which means "Chinese" in the term hanja ("Chinese characters"), but means "Korean" in the contrasting term hangeul ("Korean script").


In Chinese 漢 (the han from hanja) and 韓 (the "han" from "hangul") are pronounced differently (they have different tones) so there's really no problem. The Korean language doesn't use tone, so when 漢 and 韓 were borrowed into Korean they picked up conflicting pronunciation. But since there's no conflict on the word level (just the syllable level) it's... really not that contradictory is it?

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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Dec 14, 2013 7:52 pm UTC

Eebster the Great wrote:
Envelope Generator wrote:Fearful is such a word in English. Are there others?

I don't think "frightened" and "frightening" are antonyms, though, anymore than "nauseating" and "nauseated" as meanings of "nauseous." True antonyms would be "frightened" and "emboldened" or something like that.
Yeah, I'd say all the participial adjective pairs are complements rather than antonyms. The situations in which we use "fearful" all involve fear, just like with "frightening" and "frightened". We just apply the latter pair to different parts of the situation.

In Spanish, "bored" and "boring" are both "aburrido", with the two forms of "be" used to make the distinction in sentences like "I was bored" and "I was boring", but with only context (I believe) to tell you whether the "hombre aburrido" felt boredom or was the cause of it.

Other pairs of this sort (which have complementary meanings in English but are the same word in some other languages) include "lend" and "borrow" (both "prestar" in Spanish) and "guest" and "host" (which are usually differentiated in Spanish, but which also could each be translated in some cases as "huésped")
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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby LaserGuy » Thu Jan 30, 2014 4:29 pm UTC

"Literally" is one. A lot of people hate the figurative usage of the word, but it's been a pretty accepted usage for hundreds of years.

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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Lazar » Thu Jan 30, 2014 5:44 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:"Literally" is one.

Actually it's not. It may have weakened from meaning "in a factually true way" to being a simple intensifier (much like "really"), but no one ever uses it to mean "figuratively" in a contrastive sense. For example, if I say "I literally died" or "he was literally beside himself", the implication isn't that these statements would be factually true if I hadn't included the word "literally"; it merely serves to intensify what I'm saying.
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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby jano » Tue Feb 04, 2014 5:09 pm UTC

Would "ever" qualify?
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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Eebster the Great » Tue Feb 04, 2014 5:22 pm UTC

jano wrote:Would "ever" qualify?

How so?

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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Adam H » Tue Feb 04, 2014 5:59 pm UTC

Well, sometimes it means "once" and sometimes it means "always", kind of.
1) Did you ever do that thing?
2) I've done it ever since then.

Not sure if that's what jano was going for.
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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Feb 04, 2014 7:36 pm UTC

"Ever" is what I call an "any-" word, in that it functions grammatically in much the same way as "any" and "anyone" and "anything" and so on. Just as affirmative any-words can in some cases have very similar meanings to every-words, "ever" can in some cases mean something very similar to "always".

Where these words are different are in questions and negatives. "Have you ever done that?" is very different from "Have you always done that?", just like "Do you know anyone here?" is very different from "Do you know everyone here?" "I don't ever do that" is similarly different from "I don't always do that", as with "I don't know anyone" and "I don't know everyone".
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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Eebster the Great » Tue Feb 04, 2014 7:38 pm UTC

You get another confusing situation with the word "either," albeit far less often. Either can mean "one or the other but not both" (as in, "either Alice or Bob will be president"), but it can also mean simply "both", as in "he was holding a drink in either hand."

They are semantically and syntactically different though, so I'm not sure I would call them "opposite meanings" per se.

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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Feb 04, 2014 7:50 pm UTC

"Either" is basically the dual form of "any", as "neither" is of "none" and "both" is of "all".
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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby oxoiron » Tue Feb 11, 2014 7:07 pm UTC

I was pretty sure we had done this before.

Words that are their own opposite (complete with Wikipedia list and Dinosaur comic).

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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Valdeut » Wed Feb 26, 2014 7:40 pm UTC

Not an english example, but the Swedish verb bestrida can mean both ‘to dispute’ and to ‘to pay’. ‘Att bestrida en faktura’ can mean both ‘to pay an invoice’ and ‘to dispute an invoice’.

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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Erezen » Mon Mar 03, 2014 11:23 pm UTC

The word "fast" can mean either moving quickly (He ran fast) or not moving at all (The unit held fast at their position).

In French, where the negative particle ne is usually dropped in speech, this creates ambiguity with the word plus. Most "ne words" have different forms (déjà or toujours vs. [ne] jamais, quelqu'un vs [ne] personne, quelque chose vs. [ne] rien), but there is no such distinction with plus; plus means "more" and ne plus means "no more." Bafflingly, French speakers drop the ne here anyway, so J'ai plus d'argent could mean either "I have more money" or "I have no more money."

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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Carlington » Tue Mar 04, 2014 12:33 am UTC

Re: plus, someone told me once that the difference is in whether or not the 's' is pronounced - for one case, the s is only pronounced in liaisons, and in the other, it's always pronounced. Do you know whether that's the case, by any chance?
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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Valdeut » Tue Mar 04, 2014 11:26 am UTC

Carlington wrote:Re: plus, someone told me once that the difference is in whether or not the 's' is pronounced - for one case, the s is only pronounced in liaisons, and in the other, it's always pronounced. Do you know whether that's the case, by any chance?
Wiktionary says it's true. The following three pronunciations of plus are given:

• /plyz/ in the case of a liaison, i.e. if followed by an adjective (or an adverb) beginning with a vowel (e.g. tu dois être plus ambitieux)
• /ply/ in its positive sense if followed by an adjective (or an adverb) not beginning with a vowel, and always in its negative sense (e.g. il est plus grand que moi, or je n'en peux plus)
• /plys/ in its positive sense, when not followed by an adjective or an adverb (e.g. j'en ai plus que toi or avancez un peu plus, s'il vous plait).

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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby buttered_cat_paradox » Sat Sep 24, 2016 6:02 pm UTC

There's a weird example in Hebrew -- the verb לקלס (le-ka-less) means both to praise and to mock/scorn.
The nice thing about it is that these are actually two different verbs from two different languages (Greek and Ugaritic, most likely) that just happen to look exactly the same when imported to Hebrew.

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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Grop » Sun Sep 25, 2016 8:27 pm UTC

(I also say the two meanings of plus are disambigated by prununciation; but that is an faq in most sites about French).

One of my favorites is transparence. In politics, it means that every information is available to the public.

In computer science, something (typically a change) being transparent means that you don't have to worry about that, everything will work just fine. Which is really the opposite to transparency, as in you being able to know what happened.

...

Oh, one more funny ambiguous thing in French, while not being about opposite meanings :
Lately I heard a youtuber, while showing a multiplayer game, say "Je suis mort"; which I understood as "I am dead". However in the chat of that game (which was English language), he wrote "I died". That totally made sense, but in the two possible parsings "suis" and "mort" are really different grammatically.

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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby Copper Bezel » Sun Sep 25, 2016 11:02 pm UTC

I've noticed the "transparent" thing, too. "This should be transparent to the user" can in practice mean two directly opposed things.

If we're talking about relatively technical contexts, I guess we can bring in the old chestnut of "subject", which can explicitly designate either the agent or the patient of an action.
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Re: Words that have two opposite meanings?

Postby jedelmania » Mon Sep 26, 2016 11:53 am UTC

Pre-approved:

A pre-approved medical procedure (or sometimes loan) is used to describe the situation where you have already been given approval to take a course of action.

A pre-approved credit card often means it is currently in pre-approval status (ie it has not yet been approved).

The second usage is one I find extremely annoying.


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