Is there a term for the phenomenon when you can replace one word in a sentence with a typically opposing meaning word and maintain the meaning of the sentence?


I'm down for that!
I'm up for that!


Slim chance.
Fat chance.

Admittedly, "fat chance" probably originated as a sarcastic derivation of "slim chance", but in practice, they convey the same thing.

This is slightly related to this question, but that one's asking about a specific case (which may or may not fall into the phenomenon I'm asking about). I'm just looking to see if there is an established term I can use to search for more examples.

  • 2
    @FumbleFingers I this isn't a dupe, the OP is asking what the phenomenon is called. The first Q you linked to is i) closed and ii) asking for other cases like this, and the second is a completely different issue. The OP is asking for is a "literary term", I don't think your false enemies would work (though it is a good name for it).
    – terdon
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 5:36
  • @terdon: Well, auto-antonym was suggested in an answer to Words with opposite meanings in different regions. I think "literary term" here is a bit odd anyway. What actual writer is likely to do this except maybe as feeble wordplay? Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 6:00
  • @terdon I updated the question and took out the word "literary". I hope that makes more sense.
    – trejajo
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 0:06
  • @FumbleFingers, when I said that I was looking for a literary term, I just meant that I was looking for some coinage or maybe some neologism in the realm of linguistics. I guess instead of literary term, I can use lingustics term from now on. That all-inclusive phrase seems to be the proper category to contain all sorts of concepts like contronyms, false friends, portmanteaus, palindromes, spoonerisms, etc
    – trejajo
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 0:23

2 Answers 2


Words that have opposite meanings depending on context are called contranyms; Janus words, from the Roman god of doors between beginnings and ends. It's not exactly what you're looking for, but the term might get you on the right path.

But I'd guess most examples include neologisms — new colloquialisms we may use but might not be widely "accepted" yet, like "sick" meaning an awesome new DLC for a staid game, where the word ("sick") also retains it's everyday meaning of "not well". The neologism ("sick" with a positive connotation) is then combined with an antonym for the original word's meaning (antonym of "sick", like "healthy"), to produce the effect the OP is asking for: neologism[word] + antonym[word].

  • This is quite lengthy but the only thing you really needed to share was the term contranym. The rest should just be reformatted to fit a question-answer format.
    – virmaior
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 13:55
  • 1
    Contranym (or auto-antonym) was already listed in previous comments and it doesn't quite answer the question here. Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 18:46
  • @brandonjsmith, I added the neologism part back, but hopefully left the response less wordy than the original. Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 20:21

Great question! I was looking through the list of *nym words trying to find one that might fit. I don't know of an existing word for this, but when I started thinking about it, I realized that it is a special type of synonym (because it's a word or phrase that means the same thing as another). But it's special because the phrases have antonyms within them. So if I had to make up a word for this, I'd probably call it:


It's an antonym within a synonym! But since saying "an antonym within a synonym" is not a single word, I'd say synantonymonym (syn - ant - o - nym - o - nym). Pronounced: sɪn ænt ə nɪm ə nɪm.

What do you think, does this work?

  • Hahaha *nym-ception!
    – trejajo
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 19:36
  • Points for creativity. It's also fun to say. I also don't know if there's an exact word that might fit the question, but I figured here was a good place to ask. If this word gets the critical mass of enough people upvoting, I may have to accept it based on the Principle of the People's Choice, which was just made up as I was typing this sentence.
    – trejajo
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 19:40

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