I can't recall it, but there is a word in American English which now means the opposite of itself in British English. What words are there that have opposite (not just different) meanings in different regions?
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The verb to table, when applied to parliamentary procedure, has opposite meanings in the US and UK.
- In the United States, the motion to lay on the table (often simply "table")...is a proposal to suspend consideration of a pending motion.
- In the United Kingdom and the rest of the English-speaking world, a motion to place upon the table...is a proposal to begin consideration of a proposal.
I may be mistaken on some of these, but:
Homely apparently means "ugly" in the US, but "pleasant" in the UK
Table means "propose" in the UK, but "set aside" in the US.
Quite means "completely" in the US, but often means "slightly" in the UK.
I read somewhere that Bomb is a failure in the US, but can be a success in the UK (although I have only ever heard the US meaning here in England).
Citation: a note accompanying an award and (in the USA) a written record of an infraction : praise and penalty.
Gas seems to be a liquid in the US (petrol), but is always a gas in the UK.
Wicked can mean both good and bad, but I don't know if that is a regional thing.
Walk to the shops is supposed to be a good thing in the UK, but a friend from the US was horrified when I suggested it!
A couple more occurred to me today:
Suspenders are masculine attire in the US, but in the UK they definitely worn by a lady.
Pants are always worn under other things in the UK, but are worn over thing in the US (unless you are Superman).
The American word fanny refers to the opposite side of the body in England.
"public school" has opposite meanings in the U.S. and England: a public school in England is equivalent to a private school in the US.
These were on the auto-antonym list:
chuffed In British slang this has come to mean "pleased", synonymous to "puffed up"; an older definition, also colloquial is "displeased, upset". Specifically, "chuff" is the sound of exhaust being emanated, as from a train engine.
discursive In essay structure, it can mean either to be rambling or freeform (American usage), but also can mean to be strictly structured (British usage).
momentarily In British usage, means "only for a brief moment" but may be in the past or present- the lightning lit the room momentarily. In American usage, means "soon" but may be persistent.
The word watershed started out in 1803 meaning the dividing line between two drainage basins (etymologically, the place where the waters separate). Many references still indicate this as the modern British meaning.
Over time, the word slipped to mean the slope down which the water flow until it settled to mean a drainage basin, the opposite of the original meaning. This usage is prevalent in American references, but the shift in meaning could be observed in Britain through the 19th century, as shown by OED citations:
To the south-west of Kington the lower beds of the Old Red Sandstone (…) have been the sub-aqueous water-shed, down which the coarse detritus has been swept.
(Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, The Silurian system, founded on geological researches, 1839)
“Watershed” is a word which has been borrowed from German geographers. The verb scheiden signifies “to separate,” and die Wasserscheide is simply the “water-separation” or the “parting of the waters” — the old Divortium aquarum. But many writers, looking at the common meaning of the English verb “to shed” have used the term “watershed” to denote the surface from which the waters are shed, or the slope along which they flow. (…) To avoid all ambiguity, it is perhaps best to set aside the original meaning of "watershed," and employ the term to denote the slope along which the water flows, while the expression "water-parting" is employed for the summit of this slope.
In its figurative meanings, the word always indicates a dividing line.
My favorite self-contradictory word is 'cleave'. It means both to divide, and to unite.
This is in all variants of English, though.
One such example comes to mind, especially for those familiar with snooker commentary (few and far between as we may be):
just about , as in "He's gone for the long red in the corner...and he's just about got it!"
In Britain this modifier means something positive; that is, the ball went in the pocket, but not cleanly. In America, just about means something more like 'almost there, but not quite' and so is on the opposite side of completion. Of course, this is more an aspectual modifier, but the opposite meaning is there.
In South African English this phrase means "later", whereas in American English it means "in the very recent past".
In the region I grew up, we had the very localised sense of doubt which meant to believe.
I've been told this comes from Ulster-Scots, which is plausible; some other terms common in the region are definitely of Ulster-Scots origin (some Hibernicisms, and some retentions of terms that were once more common throughout English).
The confusing bit was that we also had doubt in the more common sense of "disbelieve", and one had to detect from context which of the two opposing sentiments where being expressed. Though "I doubt it will rain" always meant that you thought it was going to rain, but that may say more about the climate than the dialect.
In the context of performance or sports, I've seen the British use torrid to mean "very bad". In America, torrid means "very good".
Especially when it comes to racing, for example, the American usage makes more sense to me. A "scorching lap" ought to be a very fast one, no? I wonder if the British have confused torrid with horrid.
There is a whole class of words (called "contranyms" or "antagonyms") that are actually their own antonym.
The two I come across the most often are
sanguine. "Sanguine" in particular gives me fits, because it is typically used devoid of the context required for figuring out which meaning was intended. I'm undecided if it should be banned, or kept around just to mess with people.
How about "sick" and "bad", both of which, contrary to their literal meanings, are complimentary in vernacular American English.
Dude, your crib is bad ass.
Nice place you got here.
That is one sick ride.
Sub woofers, shiny rims and furry dice? Very nice.
In African American Vernacular English on the West Coast (at least among rappers), "cock" means vagina. A famous example of this is in Snoop Dogg's verse in "Gin and Juice," in which he says,
'Cause when I bust my nut I'm raising up off the cock.
There are other examples of this bizarre usage, and some speculate it is derived from "cockhole."
How about the phrase 'in charge of'? In British English, if X is in charge of Y, it means that Y is in the care of X. In US English, if X is in charge of Y, then X is in the care of Y.