Is there a word for a word whose form is contrary to its meaning?

For example, "quotidian" is anything but quotidian.


3 Answers 3


My apologies to Professor Lawler, but I'm fairly sure that the word you want is heterological.

  • 1
    +1 You're right. Lawler's citation reads in relevant part: "a predicate is heterological if it is not true of itself, that is, if it does not itself have the property it expresses". [emphasis added]
    – MetaEd
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 2:34
  • No apologies necessary. I'm happy I recognized it as referring to Russell's Paradox. Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 6:21
  • True, but for the benefit of future visitors to this page, it should be noted that this is not a word in general circulation. It is a contrived word that is used only to illustrate Russell's Paradox.
    – jsw29
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 16:47

Another term is Non-heterological. This has featured in many discussions of Russell's Paradox.

  • 1
    Your source is good but it seems like "heterological" was the word I'm looking for. Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 4:34
  • 2
    Quite right. Those binary distinctions that lead to paradoxes do so for a reason. :-) Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 6:20

The term is ironic

using words that suggest the opposite of what you intend, usually in order to be humorous

The term also could be called oxymoronic

a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction (e.g. faith unfaithful kept him falsely true).

While oxymorons usually involve multiple words, the contradictory nature seems to fit.

  • I guess irony would cover it if you were calling attention to the heterological nature of the word. ("German isn't German. Think about that.") However, I'm speaking more generally. And oxymoron, at least from your quoted definition, requires a "conjunction of terms", which I would think implies more than one. (Always, not just usually). Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 4:33

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