Even More English Contronyms

This week we’re going to examine another five commonly-used English contronyms: words with two contradictory meanings. A contronym, sometimes called an auto-antonym or “Janus word” (after the two-faced Greek god), is essentially its own opposite. Accordingly, the meaning that a contronym conveys is entirely context-dependent.

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Downhill can mean either “progressively easier” or “progressively worse.”

Now that we’ve finished the hardest part of the project, it should all be downhill from here.


Shana graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA, but her grades rapidly went downhill during her first semester of college.


As used in this lesson, either means “one or the other of two.”

We can have lessons on either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday.


However, either can also function as a synonym for “both.”

There are cars parked on either side of the street.

            There are cars parked on both sides of the street.



Throughout this lesson, we use the verb form of mean as a synonym for “convey, indicate, or refer to.”

Mean can also be used as an adjective. In this role, mean can function as a synonym for “average” or an informal synonym for “excellent.”

The mean ACT score for Georgia students is slightly above the national average.


Despite claiming she is “not good at sports,” Emily plays a mean game of golf.




Qualified can mean either “limited” or “skilful/skilled.”

I’d call that project a qualified success. While we hit most of our goals, we could have done so far more efficiently.


Although Mark was well-qualified for the position, he lost the job to someone with more experience.