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Words that are their own antonym #1300
04/09/00 07:13 AM
04/09/00 07:13 AM
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Tergiversator Offline OP
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Are their any words that are their own antonym? Seems contradictory, I know, but it struck me one day long ago, when someone said something to me that, based on the interpretation of a particular word in the sentence, could have had its meaning turned on its head. Secondly, what is the name to describe a word that has this quality? Thanks.



Re: Words that are their own antonym #1301
04/09/00 10:46 AM
04/09/00 10:46 AM
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yorkshire uk
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A recent use of the word, 'wicked' amongst teenagers comes to mind. In their usage it means the opposite of its original meaning.To be 'wicked' is to be super cool and is a good thing to be.


Re: Words that are their own antonym #1302
04/09/00 12:02 PM
04/09/00 12:02 PM
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lower upstate New York
AnnaStrophic Offline
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I don't know the name for this phenomenon, but I can think of one more example: "sanction" as a verb means to approve, while "sanction" as a noun is a ban.

As for the current meaning of "wicked," I suspect that's an extrapolation of the 1970s' "bad."

In the same vein, there are words that seem to be antonyms but are in fact synonyms, such as "flammable" and "inflammable."

Hope someone knows what these two groups of words are called.

linguaphile

Re: Words that are their own antonym #1303
04/09/00 06:40 PM
04/09/00 06:40 PM
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this too shall pass
tsuwm Offline
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I initiated a discussion on this very topic on another website (Atlantic Monthly's Word Fugitives) and I think that we eventually settled on enantiodromic to describe such a word; from enantiodromia, which means the changing of something into its opposite -- a process that most such words obviously have to go through to arrive at having two opposite meanings!

Some of the suggestions were: Janus words, auto-antonyms, contronyms, antagonyms and schizonyms. Here is a link to that discussion, which itself includes links to examples and other discussions:

http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/fugitives/diametrical.htm

here are a couple of other examples: overlook (or oversee), peruse (hi Jeff!) and anabasis (military advance or retreat).

and here's one that has certainly gone in contrary directions: sanguine, which can mean 'bloodthirsty' or 'optimistic'.

Re: Words that are their own antonym #1304
04/09/00 06:47 PM
04/09/00 06:47 PM
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this too shall pass
tsuwm Offline
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...by the way, an example of such a word which is not enantiodromic is cleave, which is often given as an example of a contronym [my personal choice amongst these terms] but which actually evolved from two separate and unique words that came to have the same spelling!


Re: Words that are their own antonym #1305
04/11/00 06:06 AM
04/11/00 06:06 AM
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jmh Offline
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Perhaps we could look at phrases which are their own antonym such as "begs the question". Oh no, let's not!


Re: Words that are their own antonym #1306
04/11/00 06:33 AM
04/11/00 06:33 AM
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In many cases, emotionally charged words, in the course of their history, change over to the opposite sense, e.g. "terrific". So the opposite significations are not really simultaneous. Antonyms, in the strict sense, are those that are actually used in opposition in a phrase. You can't say, of a novel, "the plot is terrific, but the style is terrific."


Re: Words that are their own antonym #1307
04/12/00 02:31 AM
04/12/00 02:31 AM
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Philip Davis Offline
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I was under the impression that the use of wicked to mean good was something that was common in West African languages and which got translated into English use by African Americans. I thought that, although it has recently become more widespread in use, it has long been used by African Americans and Black West Indians. Is this true and, if so, is it also true for Spanish and Portuguese speaking descendents of Black slavery.


Re: Words that are their own antonym #1308
04/12/00 01:38 PM
04/12/00 01:38 PM
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sholmes Offline
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Rats! Cleave has always been my favorite among these words and now I learn that it isn't one. Can you give the derivation of the two?


Re: Words that are their own antonym #1309
04/12/00 02:32 PM
04/12/00 02:32 PM
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this too shall pass
tsuwm Offline
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the etymologies are tortuous but they both come through Old High German; one from kleben to stick, and the other from klioban to split.


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