8 Words That Do Not Mean
What They Say
By Gabriela Lee
Have you ever racked your brain for the right word, only to come up with the wrong one? Like, all you really wanted to say was “I love yoghurt,” in response to your crush asking you if you wanted to grab some dessert, but instead your tongue slipped and you said, “I love you,” instead? And then your crush looks at you weirdly and maybe starts walking a little bit faster because he thinks that you’re crazy? No? That was just me, then.
But these are definitely words that don’t mean what they might say: contronyms or contranyms are words that have opposite or contradictory meanings, depending how they’re used in a sentence. There are a lot of contronyms in the English language, but here are some of the most popular ones to help you clear the air whenever you’re speaking.
It may mean either the strict or actual sense of the word being described, or it may mean the virtual or implicit sense of the word, depending on context. Using “literally” either way doesn’t enhance or detract from the meaning of the sentence, but might annoy some people.
There was literally no shelter from the sun.
I had to literally take a dump right then and there.
To approve or ratify something, usually a law, or to penalize or discipline something. Usually used in trade agreements, West Wing fanfiction, and political thrillers to indicate that someone is serious about agreeing or disagreeing with someone else.
I’m sanctioning your top-secret mission to Latveria.
These trade sanctions are ruining my business!
To supervise something, either an organization or a specific action, or to accidentally overlook something important. If you’re in the spy business, this word probably gets used a lot.
Her oversight of the phone bill meant that her line was disconnected.
She was assigned to be responsible for the oversight of the team.
Left (may be an adjective, noun, or adverb)
It may either refer to remaining or to leaving, depending on the context. Either way, it might break your heart.
She left behind her favorite shawl when she ran out of the house.
They left the hotel after breakfast.