Someone told me the other day that “moot” had nothing to do with a cow’s opinion and I was utterly shocked. (Actually, that might’ve been part of a Friends episode I saw once. I get their lives confused with my own, sometimes.) I’m kidding, but someone did tell me that “moot” has two contradictory definitions, which was almost as shocking. As I began to research this claim, I stumbled on a whole new world of words called contronyms (sometimes spelled contranym or alternatively called antagonyms), or, words that have two separate, but nearly opposite, meanings. Impossible? Take a look:
Moot: (adj.) debatable; deprived of practical significance (not worthy of debate)
Not exactly opposites but not exactly the same either, these two definitions both apply to moot. One can say, “We can argue who called dibs on Brad Pitt first but it’s a moot point because he’s already married with kids and that’s just weird.” One can also say, “Whether or not cats are better than dogs is a moot question because both have many admirable qualities.” Did I even use that correctly there? I don’t know. It’s a moot point because I’m moving on.
To buckle: (v.) to fasten or secure something; (v.) to weaken or collapse
This one literally blew my mind when I read it. Yes, I mean literally. There are pieces of my brain splattered on my living room wall that I’m still trying to clean off. I don’t know why I never considered the relationship between these two meanings. You can buckle under the pressure of your guilty mother who wants you to go on a scary roller coaster with her, or you could buckle the seat of the roller coaster and hold on for dear life. Both are acceptable. Neither definition ends well for you in this case.
Peer: (n.) one that is of equal standing with another; (n.) a member of one of the five noble ranks
I like this one, even if it is a little bit of a stretch. Peer usually means classmate or coworker, or someone that is of similar status to you. However, one of the word’s more archaic definitions specifically refers to peer as “a person of noble status” or, more specifically, a member of the British peerage. The two meanings are related in that the British peerage is a group composed of hereditary titles (everyone in the same family has to be of equal status, right?). The two meanings are not related in that I can talk with a regular peer about how broke and non-royal we are, but not an old British “peer.”
Oversight: (n.) an inadvertent omission; (n.) watchful and responsible care
This word is the noun form of the word “oversee” and “overlook,” so it’s kind of like the same word, but also not at all. When I didn’t get a letter from Hogwarts on my 13th birthday, that was an oversight. (My brother tells me I’m a witch all the time, and that’s where witches go, so they must’ve made an mistake.) The person that was given oversight of the Hogwarts Letter Committee is probably responsible. See the difference?
Commencement: (n.) the graduation ceremony for college students; (n.) the beginning of a project or event
What came first? Commencement meaning “the unofficial end of college” or “the beginning of something”? While I know commencement is supposed to represent “the beginning of a student’s life in the real world,” college kids don’t see it that way. They see it as the end of drunken dorm hookups, living with friends, and pre-prepared food. So in this case, the connotation of one definition contradicts the meaning of the other.
Strike: (v.) to hit forcibly and deliberately; (n.) a pitch that is swung at and missed by the batter
This term is kind of a hit or miss, literally. As a verb, strike means a hit while as a baseball-related noun, it means a miss. I can’t tell you how that happened because when it comes to sports, I’m lucky if I can play T-Ball correctly. Someone feel free to enlighten me.
Raveling: (v.) to entangle; (v.) to disentangle
According to Merriam-Webster, “raveling” means “to unravel” and “to entangle” at the same time. You could probably figure this one out using context but just to be safe, be sure never to tell someone during a bomb squad mission to start raveling the wires. (“You want me to tangle the wires up? Will that help stop the detonation or…”) It might get ugly.
Chuffed: (adj.) pleased; (adj.) displeased
This is the ultimate contronym. Chuffed, an informal British slang term, boasts two, completely opposite definitions. Someone found it in a paper dictionary too, if you don’t trust online dictionaries or something:
Moral of the story: Even words are imperfect, sometimes.
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