Many words have several meanings and some even have two converse meanings. Two examples of such words are amateur and literally as illustrated by the following:

  • She is an art amateur.
  • This is amateur work.


  • Don't take my remarks literally.
  • He literally lost his mind for a few seconds.

Which other words from the common vocabulary do display this feature? (Less common examples are also welcome!) Does this feature have a name?


2 Answers 2


Literally seems to have simply been overused as a hyperbole. When a hyperbole, a style figure that can be very powerful, is used too often, it loses its impact. This is a common phenomenon. I remember when it was common to say you were giving a 100% (of your effort) to a cause. That was already a hyperbole, but once everybody seemed to be giving their 100%, people started giving their 110%, and by now some people are going for it, 200%!

As the hyperbole gets overused, it loses its effect and its meaning. In the case of literally, it has been overused so much that people consciously interpret it as “ok, what follows is meant to be interpreted figuratively”.

As for amateur, I don't see any similar issue.

In describing someone as an art amateur, you stay close to the original meaning of lover or enthusiast. In this case, the opposite of amateur is one who is simply not interested.

In describing something as amateur work, you contrast it with professional work. In this case, the opposite is professional.

For those two meanings of amateur to be seen as antonyms, you should somehow be able to relate disinterested with professional, but I fail to see that link.

So, amateur has different meanings, but I fail to see how they are converse.

  • Sometimes we call someone an amateur if he has some knowledge on a topic, sometimes we call someone an amateur if he has very little knowledge on a topic. Nov 21, 2014 at 18:05

This question will probably be closed as a "list type question" but I'll add my favourite:


1 Outstandingly bad; shocking:

2 archaic Remarkably good.

  • Except, as the archaic marker indicates, no one uses egregious to mean good any more.
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 21, 2014 at 10:18
  • Agreed but I just love how polarized the two meanings are.
    – Ste
    Nov 21, 2014 at 10:49

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