All, I am wondering how the same word may refer to two opposite meanings. According to the free dictionary https://www.thefreedictionary.com/overlooked, overlooked may mean a thorough examination or to fail to observe. For me, those seem to be opposite meanings. thanks

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    Your sourced definition does not include “examining thoroughly;” it distinguishes looking down on something (a valley) from failing to look at something. Many words have somewhat different and even contradictory meanings, e.g., *sanction.” – Xanne Jan 30 at 7:22

This is a case where meaning is not separate from its context (it rarely is). A word may have several dictionary definitions but sometimes we can only decide on the correct one by looking at the context. For example, "I saw wood" is ambiguous, whereas "I saw wood with my eyes" or "I saw wood with a sharp tool" both make the meaning of "saw" clear.

There are others examples similar to your question about overlooked. Here are two examples of such antonymic homonyms:


= to divide by or as if by a cutting blow : SPLIT “The blow cleaved the victim's skull.”

= to adhere firmly and closely or loyally and unwaveringly

Merriam Webster


= to give effective or authoritative approval or consent to

= to impose a sanction or penalty upon

Merriam Webster

  • Thanks, do you mean "meaning is separate from context " rather than "meaning is not separate from context " – Kernel Jan 30 at 19:56
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    I have added to my answer to deal with your question. – Anton Jan 30 at 21:54

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