Word Play–Contranyms, Contronyms, Auto-Autonyms

English can be a very confusing language, even for native speakers. Because we’ve “borrowed” words from a multitude of languages, we have spelling rules that are often inconsistent. (If the plural of goose is geese, why isn’t the plural of moose meese?)  In addition we have homophones–words that sound the same but are spelled differently. A few familiar examples include: there, there, they’re: ate, eight; pare, pair, pear. To add to the confusion, we have homonyms, also called homographs.  These are words that have the same spelling but different meanings. A few examples of these include: wind, bow, refuse, dove.

And now, consider contranyms.  These  words are their own opposites! People use these words regularly without even considering how the words contradict themselves and can cause ambigulity. A few examples include: fast, left, off, trim

As we’re in the holiday season, let’s begin by considering the contranym “trim.” When we trim a tree, we place ornaments ON it. However, when we trim hair, we remove it. The colors of that fabric are fast (fixed), so we can put it up fast (quickly).    If five people left(departed) the party, how many are left (remain)? I shut off (stopped) the alarm when it went off (on.)

Take a look at some other words that fall into this category: cleave, dust, sanction seed, stone, weather  Can  you add to this list?

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