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Two-faced: Janus Words of the English Language


It is universally known that the English language can be weird and confusing. However, the existence of Janus words takes the English language to a whole new level.

Janus words, named such after the Roman god with two faces, also known as contronyms and auto-antonyms, are words with homonyms that are also their antonyms. To make it a lot simpler, there are words in English that are the antonyms of themselves.

There are two theories on how contronyms came to existence. One of these theories is that different words with different etymologies combined into a single word. The other theory is human sociology. Humans have become accustomed to sarcasm and irony, so much so that there are at least a hundred words with two opposite meanings.

Here are some contronyms that you might find familiar. Some of them you may have even used yourself!


  1. Buckle
  2. To fasten or secure with a buckle

e.g., Buckle your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

  1. To bend or collapse under pressure

e.g., My knees buckled upon seeing how high the roller coaster was.

  1. Dust
  2. To remove fine particles from something

e.g., The housekeeper forgot to dust the mantel.

  1. To sprinkle fine particles on something

e.g., I plan to dust my cake with matcha powder.

  1. Overlook
  2. To monitor or inspect

e.g., The CEO plans to personally overlook the project.

  1. To fail to notice

e.g., The CEO overlooked the complaints from HR.

  1. Peruse
  2. To skim or read without attention

e.g., I peruse books before buying them.

  1. To examine in detail

e.g., The dean peruses every single application sent.

  1. Screen
  2. To protect or conceal

e.g., We brought an extra tarp in case we need to screen ourselves from the bright sunlight.

  1. To show or broadcast

e.g., They will screen the latest episode of Once Upon a Time on ABC.


  1. Bill
  2. Paper money

e.g., I’m out of ten-dollar bills.

  1. An invoice for payment

e.g., The water bill needs to be paid.

  1. Trip
  2. A journey

e.g., We’re going on an overseas trip next month.

  1. A stumble

e.g., I had a little trip and sprained my ankle.

  1. Stakeholder
  2. One with a stake in an enterprise

e.g., Mr. Davies is the primary stakeholder of the bank.

  1. Someone holding a place for someone else in a bet

e.g., Mr. Davies is here as a stakeholder for Mr. Carlson.


  1. Egregious
  2. Remarkably good

e.g., The performance was egregious; she caught the burning hoop without hurting herself.

  1. Outstandingly bad

e.g., The performance was egregious; the tent nearly burned down.

  1. Transparent
  2. Invisible

e.g., The magician was standing on a transparent platform.

  1. Obvious

e.g., The magician’s trick was very transparent.

  1. Chuffed
  2. Delighted (British informal)

e.g., Mum was chuffed to see me win first place.

  1. Disappointed (British informal)

e.g., Mum was chuffed that it was my final competition.

  1. Nonplussed
  2. Surprised and confused

e.g., Eli was nonplussed about seeing her father, who had been gone for five years.

  1. Unaffected

e.g., Her mom, on the other hand, was completely nonplussed by her ex-husband’s arrival.

  1. Hysterical
  2. Frightened

e.g., Allie went hysterical after finding out she had flunked the exam.

  1. Funny

e.g., Jim’s stories about his old roommates are completely hysterical.


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