Laurie Stevens is the author of the Gabriel McRay thriller series. You can find out more about her on her website, www.lauriestevensbooks.com, or by clicking here, read her last post here, and buy her books here.
As if writing isn’t taxing enough, words exist that turn us on our heads. They’re called “contronyms,” and once you start looking for them, it’s hard not to keep looking — and laughing.
Take the word “sanction,” for example. It can mean to penalize something or approve of it. It gets confusing. Especially when used in politics. What about “dust?” You can dust something clean like the furniture, or you can dust an object with some kind of product (i.e. dust crops, give a baby a dusting of powder). I sympathize with folks trying to learn English. As if two, too, and to isn’t bad enough, the following will make your head spin.
Here’s a quick list:
- LEFT: Who left the room… And who was left?
- SEED: Did you seed the tomato or seed the lawn?
- STONE: If it’s legal to stone a peach, can you stone a person? What about if they’re stoned?
- TRIM: Are you adding decorations to something or are you removing them?
- CLEAVE: Are you clinging to someone or severing your relationship with a sharp knife?
- FAST: Are you holding fast, or are you running fast? Or are you simply not eating?
- OFF: Please turn off your alarm when it goes off.
- OUT: Darn, the lights are out, but at least we can see how many stars are out.
- BOUND: I was bound for New Orleans until a run-in with law bound me in chains.
- FINISHED: I finished my novel. It’s complete, but it finished me off.
- WEATHER: I admire the way you weathered the argument, however, you do look a bit weathered from it.
- GARNISH: How can you garnish your food if they garnish your wages?
- MODEL: You look like a model. Then again, you might just be a model of a model.
- HELP: I had to help the old man cross the street. I couldn’t help it.
- CLIP: Could you please clip the papers together and then clip them off at the dotted line?
- SCREEN: I’m going to screen a movie, but if you find it offensive I will screen off the screen.
- TOSS OUT: I just wanna toss out an idea, which you can use or toss out.
And last, but not least,
FLOG: I’m going to flog my new book but if my shameless self-promotion gets too blatant, please don’t flog me.
Contronyms. You gotta love ‘em. I could put out more words but you might get put out. I could strike a chord with you or strike out (and then you might strike me). Okay, I’ll stop.