Uncommon Knowledge: What word is its own worst enemy?
Meet the most conflicted word in the English language: the contronym. A contronym is a word that is its own opposite. Can’t imagine such a paradoxical word? How about a story problem: If three people were in a room but two left, how many are left? The word “left” means both to leave and to remain behind. In spring you trim a tree by taking bits away, but you add bits when you trim the tree for Christmas. You turn off an alarm when it starts to go off. There are plenty of contronyms hiding in our language, but we usually don’t notice them because we’re only focusing on one meaning at a time.