Thursday, June 6, 2013

Janus Words

Janus Words

Don’t you love those words that can mean exactly the opposite of what they mean? They’ve been called many names over the years, though none of those names have really stuck: contranyms, antilogies, eniantodromes, and Janus words. I’m fond of that final one, which refers to the two-faced Roman god of transitions, Janus.

A few of my favorite Janus words:

Fast: either something can hold fast, or it can move fast.

Strike: either I can strike the ball or miss the ball & strike out.

Garnish: either a garnish is something added, like parsley on one’s dinner plate, or something subtracted, as in garnished wages.

Citation: I can receive a citation of merit for some good deed, or a traffic citation for a deed of vehicular repute.

Bill: either one receives a bill for what one owes, or one can be paid in bills when one is owed.

Host: I can be helpful by hosting a website or hosting a party, or I can cross to the dark side and host a disease.

Oversight: I can be in charge of the oversight of employees, or I can ignore my responsibilities & be guilty of oversight.

Swipe: I can do what the society honors and swipe my credit card, or I can do what society abhors & swipe something off the shelf.

Dear followers, what other Janus words would you add to the list?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Fun With Words & Etymonline,


  1. Wow. English is one befuddling language. Learning it as a second or third language must be soooo hard.

  2. How about "book"? the criminal booked it out of there before he could get booked for robbing the ice cream truck. Well...not quite, but close! We do have a confusing language but don't ya love it?

  3. Hey Christine & Anne,
    Confusing, indeed. I suppose it creates some level of job security for those of us who teach English.

    Book is a fine addition, Christine. Thanks.