Apparently the two opposite meanings of to cleave have different roots: the to adhere meaning comes from one old English root (clifian) and the to cut meaning comes from a different old English word (cleofan). According to this wikipedia page

Similarly, in the expressions to run the gauntlet and to throw down the gauntlet, the word gauntlets in question has quite different provenances: in the fist case it is from an old Norse word for a passage (if my memory serves), while in the second case it is from the French gant (glove).

What other examples of this fascinating phenomenon do you know of?

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    @Shinto Sherlock - Usage may depend upon geographical location or the English language entertainment genres one enjoys. Also, the above are phrases which one is likely to encounter when reading literature or watching movies or television shows set in certain parts of Europe centuries ago. In the US, we have a television show called "Merlin", set in Medieval Camelot, in which one regularly hears the phrases "run the gauntlet" or "throw down the gauntlet".
    – ssakl
    Sep 4, 2010 at 1:57
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    @Shinto Sherlock I don't see how these words' rarity is at all relevant
    – Seamus
    Sep 4, 2010 at 10:21
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    @Shinto Sherlock I'm trying to work out what you meant by your first comment. I don't see how it's relevant to the question I asked.
    – Seamus
    Sep 4, 2010 at 16:00
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    @Shinto the question is about history of spellings, whereas your comment is about diversity of usage, so Seamus’s confusion seems apt to me. Please try to make the tone of your comments more kind and less cutting.
    – nohat
    Sep 4, 2010 at 18:17
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    @Ex-user: indeed, I don't see anything unkind or cutting, but neither do I see the relevance of your first comment or indeed the relevance of the lack of current usage. My response to that first comment would have been "cool story, bro". In fact a better comment would have been to point out that @Seamus used the plural phenomena when he should have used the singular phenomenon. Sep 29, 2010 at 23:36

1 Answer 1


More examples can be found on the list of English homographs over at Wikipedia.

And then there are the capitonyms (august/August, march/March, polish/Polish).

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