07 April 2009


A weird category of word is one which has two meanings that are almost exact opposites of each other. A classic case in English is sanction, which can mean "to encourage" or else "to prevent someone from getting something".

Another word with two almost directly opposite meanings is fast: if you tie a boat up fast, it is not going anywhere; but if you sail it fast, it is going somewhere rather quickly.

A few homophones have opposite meanings, though they may be spelled differently (so they are not homographs). For example, raise means "to lift up", but raze means "to destroy" (as in to raze a city); and both raise and raze are pronounced /reɪz/.

For me, prescribe and proscribe are pretty much homophones, as I usually have a schwa (/ə/) in the first syllable of both. But the first one means "to recommend", and the second one means "to forbid".

Are there are such "auto-antonyms" in Malay? Well, maybe tinggal fits the description quite well, as it can mean "to live" or else "to leave". For example, durnia means "the world", and if you had never seen the phase meninggal durnia before, you might not be able to guess if it meant "to stay in the world" or "to depart from the world". In fact, of course, it is the latter, as it is the general euphemism in Malay for "to die".