General Question

occ's avatar

What are some examples of contranyms?

Asked by occ (4080points) March 25th, 2007
I've heard that "cleave" is a contranym--a word that means two different things, and the meanings are opposites (you can cleave something in two to break it, or you can cleave to something in order to stick together). I recall hearing another example of a word that can mean either a red color or a white color. I can't remember the word. Does anyone know? Or know of other examples of contranyms?
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15 Answers

kneck's avatar
Lurid means something glowing, as in a "lurid fire." It also means sallow or bloodless.
gailcalled's avatar
How about "sanguine"? From the Latin for "blood," It can mean "cheerful, confident, optimistic, hopeful" or "bloodthirsty, accompagnied by murder or carnage". There is the implied color red in both meanings.
gailcalled's avatar
I like learning something new; viz: contranyms. Thanks, occ.
JCS's avatar
I don't know if this counts because it's not quite proper but I still find it interesting. As I understand it, "nonplussed" is supposed to mean disturbed or perplexed. But I have recently heard people use it to mean undisturbed or indifferent. Basically, the exact opposite! Even if that's not a contranym, how interesting is that?
inkysocks's avatar
"sanction" can mean "to give permission" or "penalty".
inkysocks's avatar
"cleave" can mean "to stick together" or "to split apart"
occ's avatar
I think lurid was the word I was thinking of, but all these other new ones are great too. Thanks, everyone!
gailcalled's avatar
Apparently, using "lurid to mean "deathy pale" or "wan" is considered a rare meaning. And I, personally, have never heard or read of "nonplussed" to mean undisturbed or indifferent. Sadly, there is no word "plussed," but language changes because people take it upon themselves to change or reinvent meanings for words.
gailcalled's avatar
Can't "bad" be used to mean either "good" or "bad" in some of the vernacular?
andrew's avatar
Hoi-polloi can mean either very rich or very poor people
andrew's avatar
Gourmand can mean someone who know much or very little about food
PeterM's avatar

“Livid” can mean THREE different colors:

1. dull blue; dark, grayish-blue

2. reddish or flushed

3. deathly pale; pallid; ashen

All three uses normally refer to a change in complexion based on emotion, i.e. “His face was livid with rage” (or whatever emotion you prefer, generally a stressful and unpleasant one). The word has other meanings as well, of course.

Zen's avatar


occ's avatar

And, in a sad commentary on the state of affairs for the English language, apparently the word literally should now be added to the list of contranyms.

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