Opposite Day

I’m usually pretty careful (some might say anal) about the meanings of words. For instance, “uninterested” and “disinterested” mean very different things, and “peruse” means the opposite of what most people think it does.

So I was surprised recently to find that “ravel” can mean the same thing as “unravel”. It is similar, in this way, to “bone”/”debone” … but doesn’t it seem like “ravel” should mean the opposite, to “tangle”? Turns out that that’s right, as well. Ravel can assume either definition. It’s an “autoantonym”, a word that has two opposite meanings.

After some googling, I found this great list of autoantonyms. The best part is that you know many of these already; it’s just that your brain is so good at inferring from context that it automatically decides on the contextually-correct meaning and the conflict is rarely apparent. My favorites:

  • aught: anything / nothing
  • custom: usual; normal / special; unique
  • impregnable: impossible to enter / able to be impregnated
  • resign: to quit; give up / to sign up again
  • shank: latter part of a period of time / early part of a period of time
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4 Responses to Opposite Day

  1. aj says:

    Dang, that’s some hate!

    aught — “is there aught else you can do?”
    custom — “as is the custom around here”
    impregnable — which definition have you not heard?
    resign — that’s what i liked about it

    • phaedrus1313 says:

      It’s just like the old days!

      I understand “aught”, it’s just not personally part of my vocabulary (in either sense).

      “custom” – who the heck uses “usual” or “normal” as a noun? In the example you give, “custom” is used as a noun, whereas the sentences make _sense_ with “usual” or “normal”, but only because they’re acting as adjectives with an implied noun (“thing”) elided. Right?

      “impregnable” – Haven’t heard it used to refer to things that can’t be made pregnant. Is that like “Males are impregnable?”

      “resign” – fair enough; I would have thought the lack of purity would have bothered you :D


  2. wingerz says:

    this makes me miss the good ol’ days when we all worked together.

  3. simplyjeska says:

    man, the bone/debone thing makes me crazy!