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Words with two opposing meanings make no sense, but they exist. How can you possibly convey what you mean when you want someone to “dust the cake”? Should you use a dusting brush over it, potentially messing up the frosting, or should you dust sprinkles all over it, gilding the lily?


  • I guess when you overlooked the garden, you overlooked the missing violets.
  • Be careful to screen the living room windows before you screen the film.


Contranyms, also known as Janus words, have two opposite meanings, both of which are equally valid. To dust is “to cover with particles” and “to remove particles.” To sanction is “to support” and “to condemn.” To trim means “to cut something away” and “to decorate with something.” Confusion may reign when you skip while skipping class. Avoid using a contranym twice in the same sentence.


Janus was the guardian of thresholds; a quick image search for him will reveal two faces looking in opposite directions. Connected to the in-between times and places of doorways, changes, and beginnings, Janus is one source of our transitional month January (the other is Juno). Because the name is old, it diversified. It is also connected to janitor, the person who oversees the transition from dirty to clean.

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