I found this unsourced reference. Which made me wonder if it is correct or not? Could this be considered an "auto-antonym" like ravel and unravel?


The OED has an entry for the verb unpeel, with three 20th century citations. The linked note on the prefix un- says:

The redundant use of un- is rare, but occurs in Old English unlíesan, and Middle English unloose, which has succeeded in maintaining itself. Later instances are unbare, unsolve, unstrip (16–17th cent.), and the modern dialect forms unempt(y), unrid, unthaw (also locally uneave). Another redundant or extended use (= ‘peel off’) exists in unpeel v.


Various dictionaries in the Oxford family list "unpeeled" as an adjective meaning "not peeled", but I have not found an Oxford dictionary that lists "unpeel" as a verb. Merriam-Webster offers unpeel as a verb, where it is a synonym for "peel".

So the usage that you asked about appears to be "correct" (whatever that means); but we now have the unfortunate situation where the word "unpeeled" has two meanings, which are exact opposites of one another.

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    +1 "'unpeeled' has two meanings, which are exact opposites of one another." The hazards of being 'generous' in accepting new words into dictionaries! – Kris Oct 12 '12 at 5:24
  • It appears "ravel" suffers the same fate here – user 726941 Oct 12 '12 at 5:24
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    I am quite gruntled about this. – user16269 Oct 12 '12 at 5:28
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    It does seem rather strange that the word unwrap is pretty much unambiguous, whereas unpeel is far from it. – Alan Gee Oct 12 '12 at 14:30
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    I can be bound for New York, and bound to New York, with opposite meanings too. – Pureferret Oct 12 '12 at 15:27

I never unpeel anything; I always peel fruit and vegetables with skins (or peels).

A Google Ngram for these two words shows no instances of unpeel since 1800. It's probably a back-formation and, therefore, much newer than peel. Because it's a verb that means the same as the verb peel, it's a pointless and annoying neologism. The adjective unpeeled, however, is a reasonable word that describes a fruit or vegetable that has not yet been peeled.

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    See Barrie's answer, I don't think this is that new. – Pureferret Oct 12 '12 at 15:29
  • 20th century is new enough. That's because I'm old. Maybe you're young. My 16-year-old thinks 20-year-old movies are ancient. – user21497 Oct 12 '12 at 23:28
  • But C20 covers 1901-2000; where do you draw the line and still let a language evolve? – Pureferret Oct 12 '12 at 23:43
  • My not using unpeel as a verb has no effect on the evolution of the language. If people want to use it, they will, and the language will change and evolve accordingly. I'm indifferent except in what I write and say. Unlike William Strunk Jr, I don't prescribe for others, except to say "Don't use unnecessary words". – user21497 Oct 12 '12 at 23:47
  • I'm not questioning your use of the language, but if it comes down to "I prefer to do X" as opposed to "This/That is incorrect" that becomes subjective not objective. – Pureferret Oct 12 '12 at 23:50

It's correct in informal or poetic use, not in formal prose -- certainly not in technical writing.

Some of the tech. examples shown in the reference cited above by @Merk are clearly 'incorrect'.

Plant Pathologists Unpeel Rumors of Banana Extinction.

-- Sensational Title for News Item; Fine.

Easy to install, use a thin screwdriver to edge up the old screen, then just unpeel and remove it and re-stick the new screen back into place.

--Not in a user manual, never. Incorrect. Peel off the un.

Prepare to unpeel the super-sized satsuma.

--Adspeak; fine, again.

The "I" voice's desire to unpeel the layers of social convention that cloud her life is evident in "White/ Godiva, I unpeel---/ Dead hands, dead stringencies."

--Sounds nice in poetry; right place to use it.

Also found an interesting explanation in the same reference.

The "un-" in "unpeel" is not the negating prefix of "unsung" or "unbelievable," but a different prefix, one derived from Old English "and-," meaning "against." The latter prefix is the one in "unfold" and "unhand," and in a word mentioned elsewhere in this thread, "unravel." [mplsray]

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    Technical writing? Can you point us to some technical papers about peeling oranges? – Mr Lister Oct 12 '12 at 6:00
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    @MrLister No oranges, sorry. cf. my answer above. "Easy to install, ..." – Kris Oct 12 '12 at 6:02
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    why are they incorrect? I see nothing wrong with them. – Matt E. Эллен Oct 12 '12 at 8:03
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    @MrLister You might find a sentence about peeling oranges in a biomedical paper describing an animal model in which either the experimenter or the experimental animal peeled an orange (or a banana or a grape). In the Methods section. – user21497 Oct 12 '12 at 8:57
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    @MattЭллен They're grammatically correct in all of them. The lack of clarity as opposed to "peel" though makes them arguably not good English. Good English and grammatically correct English overlap, but do not coïncide. – Jon Hanna Oct 12 '12 at 13:55

In its noun form, a peel is the outer skin of a fruit or vegetable. So to prefix 'un' to 'peel' as its noun form makes perfect sense because you're explaining that you're removing the peel of a fruit or vegetable. Because the verb 'peel' is a negative connotation already, to have peel and unpeel exist is just redundant.

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    If you downvote, please provide an explanation as to why you believe the answer is flawed or incorrect in its entirety. This allows for constructive use of the voting system. – Mechaflash Oct 12 '12 at 15:26
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    I see your point, it's as though anything that can't normally be done in reverse didn't have a historical need for an un prefix. Skin is another example. – Alan Gee Oct 12 '12 at 20:02

Very similar to shelled vs. unshelled in reference to nuts. Both of them can refer to nuts either with or without shells, depending on whether the word is used as a verb or an adjective, which can lead to a sort of double ambiguity when using either word.

These nuts are shelled.

They still have their shells on.

These nuts have been shelled.

Their shells have been removed.

These nuts are unshelled.

They have not been through the shelling process and still have shells.

These nuts have been unshelled.

They have been through the process and no longer have shells.

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    I am more unconfused now. – Kris Oct 12 '12 at 14:52

Unpeel looks like peeling layer(s) of anything or skin of fruits like BANANA. The prefix UN should not be taken in negative meaning. Just take it as a new word meaning synonmous to peel & peeled as verb and unpeeled as adjective. Why the language travel in new fields and getting more colors not acceptable? BR Sunkara

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