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The words flammable and inflammable mean the same thing, but (to someone unfamiliar with their meaning) appear to be opposites (because of the "in" prefix). Is there a name for such word pairs that appear to be opposites but actually mean the same thing?

A few other examples are ravel/unravel, regardless/irregardless, radiation/irradiation, incite/excite, culpatory/inculpatory, press/depress, to/unto, part/depart, fat chance/slim chance, thaw/dethaw/unthaw, candescent/ incandescent, canny/uncanny, dead/undead, write up/write down, valuable/invaluable

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Not strictly the word you are looking for, but in the context quite interesting: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_friend If you think of non-flammable and inflammable (and the confusion between), that would be false friends, if they would belong to two languages. –  Stephen Feb 8 '12 at 19:17
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Another example the OP could have cited: the classic "irregardless". –  Hexagon Tiling Feb 10 '12 at 23:05
    
On the other side of the coin, beware of synonyms that have antonymous uses, e.g., “street” and “road” are synonyms, but “on the street” (=unemployed) and “on the road” (=busily employed on a mission) are antonyms. –  Hexagon Tiling Feb 10 '12 at 23:09
    
@FumbleFingers: Sometimes the answer is that there is no answer and that isn't an issue –  Casebash Feb 26 '12 at 2:13
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@Jim: Entering into the spirit of the thing, I just edited in another pair for you! :) –  FumbleFingers Feb 26 '12 at 21:23

5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted
+100

How about false enemies?

I originally voted to close because I thought synonym was an adequate generic term here, but Stephen's comment re false friends prompted me to Google language "false enemies". It seems clear that this coinage has occurred to others (here it is in a Wikipedia talk page, for example).

The first other "clear-cut" example I came up with was ravel / unravel, but I've found a couple more since, as have others here - maybe OP's right, we need a word to Know thine enemy!

EDIT: If an out-and-out neologism is acceptable, there's always the crypto- prefix (secret, hidden, or concealed), so they could be cryptosynonyms (though I must admit that one doesn't yet seem to have occurred to anyone else within the scope of Google's indexing routines).

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Oddly, ravel seems to have the same property as cleave - it is its own opposite. –  Matt Эллен Feb 21 '12 at 14:00
    
@Matt: There are actually quite a "autoantonyms" like this. for example, buckle (fasten/collapse), let (allow/hindrance) rent (lend/hire). But not so many where an apparently opposite "inflected form" shares the same meaning as the base word. –  FumbleFingers Feb 21 '12 at 14:18
    
Great answer, but I'm not sure it quite answers (just because I'm not sure there is an answer). Bounty has been started, but I expect we probably will not get an authoritative answer. Probably what we can expect is support of these suggestions. –  Jim Feb 24 '12 at 2:03
    
How about press and depress? –  Jim Feb 24 '12 at 4:24
    
@Jim: That's quite a good one! But like the others in the link I put in my comment above, it's only a synonym in certain contexts. I still only see two clear-cut "totally false enemies", and if I'd made my answer "community wiki" so you could edit that one in, I might have been tempted to edit it out as "context-dependent". –  FumbleFingers Feb 24 '12 at 5:10

According to Wikipedia:

"Flammable and inflammable both mean capable of burning. The word "inflammable" came from Latin inflammāre = "to set fire to," where the prefix "in-" means "in" as in "indoctrinate", rather than "not" as in "invisible" and "ineligible". Nonetheless, "inflammable" is often erroneously thought to mean "non-flammable"."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flammability#Linguistics:_flammable_vs._inflammable

I don't think there's a name for this -- it's just that the latin prefix "in" can mean either "not" (as "indiscreet") or also literally "in", as in "in-flames"-able.

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I used to work with a guy who jokingly used the term 'tuitive' for something that was difficult to use. –  tinyd Feb 6 '12 at 15:34
    
Note to OP: While I don't think there's a "real" word for the thing you're asking (as fumblefingers pointed out), many comedians might try to work such things into their skits on oxymorons. What you're asking isn't an oxymoron, I'm just saying that some might mistakenly lump these in with other oxymorons. –  Olie Feb 6 '12 at 21:57
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@tinyd: Years ago, every other country pub in the South-West of England had a round tuit on the wall over the bar. They still took ages getting a round ToServingMe, though. –  FumbleFingers Feb 21 '12 at 14:27
    
@Olie +1 for the prefix/no-name-because-it's-a-coincidence note. I've started a bounty to see if anyone has an actual term for this (although I expect FumbleFingers's answer below is probably the best we will get). –  Jim Feb 24 '12 at 2:04
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But OP didn't ask for definitions of his first example word-pair, or an explanation of how they came to exist. He asked for a generic name for such pairs - which you have only acknowledged by saying "I don't think there's a name for this". I fail to see this is any answer at all, and I do not understand why so many people have upvoted it. –  FumbleFingers Feb 26 '12 at 21:27

No, there is no word for describing such pairs. It is because the etymology of both the "in" prefixes are different. The in- in inflammable was derived from the Latin preposition meaning en- (like en-flamed) and not the Latin prefix meaning -un.

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Why does it follow from the fact that the etymology of the prefix is not the obvious one that there is no such word for describing such a situation? –  waiwai933 Feb 26 '12 at 2:25

Well if we're just looking for neologisms I would suggest the obvious:

insynonyms

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I up-voted for the idea of making it one word, but I think "inantonyms" (along the lines aluded to by other answerers) would be better. –  Hexagon Tiling Mar 5 '12 at 7:07

There is a related concept neologistically known as the "contranym" or "antagonym", which is words which mean two opposite things, so for example "to Cleave" can mean "to sever", or "to adhere tightly".

Obviously the concept you're looking for is the precise opposite of this. Can I therefore suggest that by analogy these words ought to be called "homogenyms" (from "homogeneous" meaning "essentially alike")?

(I initially wanted to suggest "homonyms", but that's already taken.)

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Just fun trivia: cleaved and cloven are both the past tense of cleave, but they have distinct meanings (the first to join, the second to split). –  ErikE Mar 1 '12 at 0:59

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