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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?

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Roaring Fish, MetaEd, Brian Hooper, MrHen Oct 31 '13 at 13:16

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  • 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 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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