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When is a word opposite of itself?

The Answer

When it is a contronym.

A contranym is defined by Myriam Webster as “a word having two meanings that contradict one another”.

Examples

  • TRIM – You can trim a tree by adding things to it (decorations)… or you can trim a tree by removing things (branches).
  • RESIGN – You can resign from your job and go look for another one… or you can resign a contract to continue with your current job.
  • WEATHER – An object can weather a storm and remain intact. Another object could be weather by that same storm and become eroded.

Contronyms are sometimes referred to as Janus words.

“Janus word is a word (such as cleave) having opposite or contradictory meanings depending on the context in which the word is used. Also called antilogy, contronym, contranym, autantonym, auto-antonym, and contradictanyma.”

These Words Are Their Own Opposites by Richard Norquist – Aug 2018

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