Not long ago, I was wondering at how some words got to have two opposite meanings. There were two I knew of immediately: sanction, which means both “to allow” and “to prohibit”; or peer, which means both one’s equal (“a jury of one’s peers”) and one’s superior (“a peer of the realm”).

Much pondering gave me some other examples:

first degree which is the worst sort of murder but the least worst sort of burn;

handicap, which can mean an advantage, or a disadvantage;

to lease, offering something for rent or being the one who rents it;

and strike, either to hit something or (in baseball) to not hit something.

A friend of mine found me this jaw-dropping list of 75 words that contradict themselves. It contains examples that had never occurred to me, like custom and transparent, among others.

Got any favorite self-contradicting words? Let me know in the comments.



  1. James Sutherland

    I’ve always loved Dr Nick Riviera’s lines when a fire starts in his OR: “don’t worry, that stuff is INflammable!” Next scene, as they flee the burning ruins of the hospital: “Inflammable means flammable? What a country!”

  2. Pingback: What meaning is this? | Uncouth Reflections

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