What is the term for a word that has come to mean the opposite of its original meaning"

  • 1
    Please provide an example of such a word. Mar 31 '15 at 19:34
  • I posted a similar question a few months ago, though that was for a phrase and not an individual word. Mar 31 '15 at 20:34
  • Are you talking only about nouns whose meaning has completely reversed (i.e., they used to only mean +X, now they only mean -X)? Or would you include words that have developed meanings that are the opposite of their original meaning, but still perhaps also retain their original meaning (like fast, mentioned in bobro’s answer below)? Mar 31 '15 at 20:51
  • "Groovy" used to mean modern and exciting; someone who's living in the '60s. And now it means old-fashioned; someone who's still living in the '60s!
    – gnasher729
    Mar 31 '15 at 21:20
  • autantonym is for words that mean something and its opposite, which is close to but not exactly what you are seeking. Are you thinking of the use of 'bad' to mean 'really good' sometimes? 'bad' still means 'not good' in most instances so could be considered an autantonym, rather than your restriction.
    – Mitch
    Mar 31 '15 at 21:43

Hmmm.... good question! Not the same as a contronym, a word that has a homograph which is an antonym. Dust can mean dust, or to remove dust, fast can mean fixed in place or moving quickly, and so on.

I'll bet there is a word to answer the question, though.

As for an example, "awful" is awfully close to having come to mean the opposite of what it originally meant. There are others which are close- nice originally meant "foolish"- but I can't remember one which has come to mean its complete opposite. I'm sure there are some, probably in specific fields (music for example).

  • Fast is actually a precise example of this. It has come to mean the opposite of its original meaning, though it still retains the original meaning as well. The question doesn’t give enough detail to ascertain whether that would still count as an example. Mar 31 '15 at 20:50

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