There are many interesting words in English. There are even words with opposite meanings. (Opposite means “completely different“).

When a word has several meanings, and one of its meanings is the reverse of another meaning, we call the word a contronym.

The word “Contronym” comes from contra (“against” in Latin) + onoma (“name” in Greek).

Let’s learn about 3 interesting contronyms.

1. Literally


Originally, this word means “actually” or “in the exact meaning of the words”. It shows you mean exactly what you say, and you are not exaggerating.

For example: “There are literality millions of people who speak Italian.”
(Meaning: There are actually millions of people who speak Italian. It is accurately true.)

Today, many people use this word to exaggerate or emphasize what they are saying. That’s the exact opposite!

For example: “Don sent me literally millions of emails.”
(Meaning: Don sent me many emails. It felt like millions, though of course, I did not actually count millions of emails. I exaggerate to emphasize how many emails I got from Don.)

This use is not standard, but it is very common. It is not acceptable in formal writing.

2. Overlook


In the past, this word used to mean “to supervise, watch someone or something to make sure everything is done correctly”. 

For example: “He overlooked the event.”
(Meaning, he looked and checked carefully to see that everything is alright.)

But this is an old use of the word. Today we use it quite differently!

The modern meaning of overlook is “to ignore or not to notice”.

For example: “The girls always chit-chat in class, but our teacher overlooks it.”
(Meaning, the teacher does not notice the girls chit-chatting, or she notices it but pretends not to see it.)

3. Original


Original means “first or existing from the beginning”.

The “original owner of the car” is the car’s first owner. When you “restore the house to its original state”, it means you renovate it so that it looks like at the beginning of its existence. 

When an artist, for example, has an original idea, she is the first person to think of this idea. Therefore, it’s a new idea. So the other meaning of original is “new, not like anything that existed before”.

For example, “an original design” is a new design, never seen before, not copied.

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