The Same, Only Different
An antiautonym is one of a pair of words which mean the same thing,
although one word seems, for some reason, as though it should be the
"opposite" of the other. This concept is related to, but different than,
an autoantonym, which is a single word which means both one
thing and its opposite.
Some examples of antiautonyms may simply be considered incorrect speech,
but they are collected here nonetheless. Examples include:
BONED / DEBONED: having had the bones removed.
BOUCH / DEBOUCH: to open out into a wider area.
CATEGORICAL / UNCATEGORICAL: Both words are used to mean
"sweeping", "broad" or "without exception". "CATEGORICAL" is correct,
while "UNCATEGORICAL" is colloquial.
EBRIATE / INEBRIATE: Both words mean "intoxicated" (or should I
say "toxicated"?). The "in-" prefix actually is not used in its negating
sense, but to mean "into".
EXHAUSTIVE/ INEXHAUSTIBLE: Both words may be used to describe
someone's knowledge or expertise, and yet they seem to be negating
each other. Here, at least, we have an explanation, since exhaustive
is meant to suggest that the person has exhausted the subject (and
hence, learned all there is to know), while inexhaustible
is meant to suggest that you could never come to the end of that
person's knowledge of the subject. So while these are actually
different ideas, strictly speaking, in most people's minds they
are used in the same context.
FLAMMABLE / INFLAMMABLE: Both words mean "liable to burn".
"INFLAMMABLE" is the original form, and "FLAMMABLE" a modern invention
for the sake of simple folk.
HERITABLE / INHERITABLE: Again, the particle "in" does not
I COULD CARE LESS / I COULDN'T CARE LESS: The first phrase is
colloquial, and probably the result of mishearing the correct second
LOOSEN / UNLOOSEN: both mean to make loose.
PRICEY / PRICELESS
REGARDLESS / IRREGARDLESS: The second word is a colloquialism
that is extremely irritating to linquistic curmudgeons.
SHAMELESS / SHAMEFUL: you'd almost swear these words are
opposites, (you can even convince yourself that "shameless"
can be used as its own opposite). However, these words are most
commonly used to describe a shameful deed done by a
shameless person. The shame that the deed would engender in
an ordinary person does not affect the shameless person, who
by some peculiarity of spiritual genetics cannot experience this
VALUABLE / INVALUABLE: the second word actually suggests
something of greater value.
It's not really impossible for something to be the same as its "opposite".
It's unusual for words, but here's a silly example of an antiautonymical
He read half of the words on the sign.
which is equivalent to its "opposite":
He didn't read half of the words on the sign.
though not equivalent to its logical negation:
It is not the case that he read half of the words on the sign.
You can go to
the wordplay home page.
Last modified on 17 August 2012.