For example:

  • "transparent" can mean both "obvious" and "hidden"

  • "aught" can mean both "all" and "nothing"

Is there a term for a word which has multiple definitions that are antonyms?

  • "Transparent" does not mean both "obvious" and "hidden".
    – Kris
    May 19, 2014 at 5:20
  • 3
    It's not a duplicate. It's only a related Q.
    – Kris
    May 19, 2014 at 5:21
  • 1
    @Kris 1) His intentions were transparent. 2) X-rays are transparent to the naked eye.
    – user76579
    May 19, 2014 at 5:27
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    @Kris if something is transparent, it's both easy to see and invisible. Included in multiple examples, here's just one: simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contronym
    – user76579
    May 19, 2014 at 5:37
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    @Kris 'Transparent' means you can see through the thing in question. Where the confusion arises about 'easy to see' and 'invisibility' concerns its metaphorical use. It has become common to say that a certain procedure is 'transparent', which could mean that it improves clarity, but I suppose to some people it could mean that it lacks clarity. Anyway the principal meaning of 'tranparent' is that you can see through it.
    – WS2
    May 19, 2014 at 6:42

3 Answers 3


Great question. These wacky words are called "contronyms." As defined by Oxford dictionaries,

"A word with two opposite meanings, e.g., sanction (which can mean both ‘a penalty for disobeying a law’ and ‘official permission or approval for an action’)."

  • 1
    I have also read the term "auto-antonym" here
    – user 85795
    May 19, 2014 at 5:28
  • @skullpatrol yes, "auto-autonym" is definitely a synonym for "contronym" :)
    – njboot
    May 19, 2014 at 5:30
  • That link squire, does not take you to the OED. It goes to something called 'Oxford Dictionaries'. I don't know what association the latter has with the OED. Perhaps there is a town in Peru called Oxford where they produce these things! With cutlery I think the Japanese renamed a village 'Sheffield' so they could sell 'Sheffield Silverware'. But never buy it unless it says 'Made in Sheffield, England'. 'Contronym' is NOT in the OED.
    – WS2
    May 19, 2014 at 14:21

They are often referred to as Janus words, after the Roman god Janus, whom Wikipedia describes as "the god of beginnings and transitions, and thereby of gates, doors, passages, endings and time. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past".


Enantiodrome: For the Jungian principle of equilibrium... An auto antonym (sometimes spelled autantonym), or contranym (originally spelled contronym), is a word with a homograph (a word of the same spelling)-Wikipedia

  • When quoting a source, please provide a link to it as well. And why did you quote the disambiguation blob as well?! May 19, 2014 at 7:54