As I'm sure everyone is now aware, the OED has now acknowledged that "literally" can be used to mean both "figuratively" AND "actually" -- two words with the opposite definition. It got me wondering:

Are there any other words in the English language that can mean the opposite to itself?

  • possible duplicate of How does a word come to have two completely opposite meanings? which deals with how this situation can arise. There's also Can anyone provide me with a list of English words that are their own antonyms? which has actual lists (and links to more lists! :) – FumbleFingers Oct 31 '13 at 0:19
  • @FumbleFingers That question is asking how such words come to exist. – Django Reinhardt Oct 31 '13 at 0:22
  • Personally I think both your question and the second one that I just added to my previous comment are Off Topic "list requests". But I won't bother closevoting since I've no doubt I'd be overruled by others anyway. – FumbleFingers Oct 31 '13 at 0:24
  • Clip can mean "to attach" and "to cut off" – TAAPSogeking Oct 31 '13 at 1:28
  • Wait a second. The article says the OED has added the "metaphorical usage." Nowhere does it mention the "figurative sense." Equating a person with a real, actual animal ("Owen was literally a greyhound.") is a metaphor. The whole sentence is a lie (though a poetic one), and in it the word literally means actually, factually, genuinely, veritably. So, you've offered a bad example. The question itself is a good one, though, but it's been asked before. – Talia Ford Oct 31 '13 at 2:05

With all due respect to the OED, literally meaning "figuratively" is just wrong. But there are plenty of English words that do have contradictory meanings, with "cleave" being a famous example meaning both "divide" and "unite."

  • The OED didn't add the meaning "figuratively"; they, simply, said that the word literally may be used to tell lies that amount to a metaphor, thus be used "metaphorically." That's way different from saying, "literally can also mean figuratively." – Talia Ford Oct 31 '13 at 2:01
  • Sorry, just took the original poster at their word without checking the source. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Oct 31 '13 at 2:04
  • I know; I was just clarifying for the future readers. – Talia Ford Oct 31 '13 at 2:07
  • @TaliaFord My head literally exploded reading your comment. – Django Reinhardt Nov 1 '13 at 1:31
  • (Note: I was speaking figuratively, not metaphorically.) – Django Reinhardt Nov 1 '13 at 1:36

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