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.

Grammar Rules Plates, $12.50

Written by Nathan

Nathan is a copywriter, who helps create our product descriptions as well as our weekly emails. He is also a nationally award-winning musical theater writer, whose work includes an adaptation of Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver. Nathan has also been a classical violinist, tutored Kazakhstani jewelers in entrepreneurship, created large-scale games played across entire city blocks, served as a missionary in South Korea, conducted experiments in sonoluminescence, co-founded an exotic fruit-growing business, was a theater critic for Tucson Weekly, and as a teenager composed a women’s jazz quartet that is currently performed around the world.


  1. MoHub

    Context is everything. However, Nathan’s post doesn’t really relate to the text on the plate and mug.

  2. Libs

    Cute idea! Could get some good meal conversations going, or provide last minute studying before a grammar test. I grew up with an English teacher for a Father. He would’ve loved these! Just wish they were more sanely priced. I’d certainly buy them all if they were.

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