Words With Opposite Meanings

John Rentoul

duster 300x300 Words With Opposite MeaningsI chose my Top 10 Words With Opposite Meanings in The New Review, The Independent on Sunday magazine, yesterday. I admit that many of them are not quite opposite. Buckle to join together and buckle to collapse are not at 180 degrees to each other.

Tom Freeman correctly points out that literally as an intensifier does not mean figuratively.

And I missed a couple of possibly better words:

Dust, which can mean to remove dust or to apply it. (Thank you Willm’i Smalfuk.)

Arguable, which can mean something that can be asserted or contradicted. (Thank you John Peters.)

Then there are phrases. “To coin a phrase” is usually used to express the opposite of “to invent a phrase”, as Alan Pedley pointed out.

All downhill from now on” can, as Stewart Wood said, mean that the worst is over or still to come.

Matthew Redgrave suggested few/a few, which is weird but not a single word.

It does, though, recall wheen, which means either a lot or a little, and was proposed by Francis Wheen for my Top 10 Words That Used to Mean the Opposite.

Finally, Graham Thorne told me that in Cornwall the word “dreckly” (directly) means “When I get around to it”. It is the Cornish equivalent of mañana but slightly less urgent. In other words, it is the same as presently, which was also in my list of words that had changed meaning completely over time.

Before I could close the shop, Alex Massie was suggesting a list of words that is the opposite: apparently opposite words with the same meanings, such as “flammable” and “inflammable”. But by then it was too late.

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