Printable Version
Pronunciation: kahn-trê-nim Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A polysemous word with two diametrically opposed meanings, a word that is its own antonym.

Notes: Today's word has made it into only a few dictionaries. This could be because of its limited usefulness or the recency of its appearance (see Word history). Its adjective is contranymic(al), whose adverb is contranymically.

In Play: If we trim a tree, we add to its edges; if we trim a dress, we subtract from its edges. If the US sanctions oligarchs, it denies them privileges; if it sanctions arms to Ukraine, it allows arms to go there. If we dust for fingerprints, we add dust; if we dust your room, we remove dust. A peer can be above your station or your equal. We can rent or lease to or from.

Word History: Today's word arose in the late 50s. No one knows who made it up; I first read it in one of Richard Lederer's books (can't remember which). Whoever dreamed it up coupled contra with -onym by analogy with antonym and synonym. Contra is a Latin preposition meaning "against, opposite", as in English 'pro and contra' (often shortened to 'pro and con'). Contra seems to be a combination of com "with" + -t(e)r, the comparative degree. In PIE con was kom "by, beside, at, with". It might have combined with the comparative suffix -t(e)r to become kontra "more beside", which could have come to mean "opposite" in the sense of 'opposite sides'. Who knows? -Onym is more easily traced. It started out as Greek onyma "name", which derived from PIE (o)nomen "name". Nomen is the source of English name, Russian imya, imeni "name", Latin nomen, nominis "name". Latin nomen reduced to noun in Anglo-French, but nom in continental French.

Dr. Goodword,

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