Same Word, Different Meanings…

Johnny-on-the-Spot … by John Foster…

Years ago, when I had to pick-up grandkids after school, those of us who were waiting for the third we would play various word games.

I’d say “too” and someone would answer, “t-o-o” and another would answer “t-w-o” and quickly followed by “t-o”.

What about “There”?

Some one would spell “T-h-e-r-e” while another would toss out “t-h-e-i–r” and in the later years, I couldn’t slip “t-h-e-y-r-e” passed them.

We dealt with “f-o-r-e”, “f-o-u-r” and “f-o-r”.

As we “listened”, we “h-e-a-r-d” and thought of bunches of animals, in a “h-e-r-d.”

And, if we owned 60 minutes, it had to be “o-u-r” “h-o-u-r”.

But if we were lacking energy after 7 days, that was a “w-e-a-k” “w-e-e-k”.

We all found it a fun way to pass the time while innocently building vocabularies and spelling skills.

But the youngest of the trio, Keaton, was usually resigned to quizzical looks as his brain couldn’t keep him up with his older siblings.

Keaton had a word that he would toss out to indicate he’d like to play but he couldn’t stay up with the rest of us.

Next time you see Keaton ask his about the word he used.

Even today, to pass the time in traffic or maybe waiting on my wife, I’ll play the “alphabet game” by attempting to find as many different letters on billboards or even semi-trailers and, in alphabetical order.

But a new one has captured my curiosity.

It’s “contronyms” (also autoantonyms).

Those are words with two different definitions that contradict or are the reverse of each other.

Often it’s a word with a homonym(another word with the same spelling but different meaning) that’s also an antonym (a word with the opposite meaning).

I leaned on the Reader’s Digest for some examples.


It could be “moving towards something” but if you’re “bound” by something, you’re actions are restrained or limited.

You can “bolt” out the door, separating by running away but a “bolt” can hold something together especially if the nut has rusted on the “bolt”.

You can endure (wear well) or deteriorate (wear out).

You can fasten things together with a “buckle” or pressure can cause you or something to bend or collapse or “buckle”.

Speaking of “buckle”, as a kid, did you ever have a pair of those black, rubber boots with those nifty “buckles” that would keep the gear on your feet?

You can “suggest” or “dispose of” with “toss out”.

Little old “out” can refer to the stars shining at night or that burned “out” light bulb.

When your alarm sounds in the morning, you turn “off” the alarm as it is going “off”.

You can “garnish” a dish by adding parsley but take away wages with a “garnish”.

Cooks, can you “garnish” “garnish”?

“Finish” can be completed…or destroyed.

When you have “finished” the job the effort might make you feel you are tuckered our, or “finished”.

I seem to always be “seeding” the lawn by adding something to the grass but I’m taking material away when I’m “seeding” a watermelon.

You can hit or deliver a blow (strike) or miss while trying to hit (strike) and with three…you’re out!

“First” can be the most-severe in the case of the degrees of murder but it’s also the least-severe type of burn.

If you “hold up”, you can either be supporting or impeding.

“Left”, the opposite of right, can either indicate you’re remaining or you’ve departed.

Did you ever “dust” the furniture or “dust” a brownie with powdered sugar.

In one case, you’re removing; in the other, you’re adding.

And, if you sprinkle some powdered sugar on the floor, are you “dusting dusting?”


Say it out-loud and you’re quitting but what happens when you see it regarding a new contract you agreed to?

“Fast” can either be secured in one place” or “moving quickly”.

Or in other words, if you have a fast car, you want to be sure to have tires that hold fast.

You can hold things together, like papers, with a “clip” but you can remove branches or limps with a “clip” of the hedge trimmer.

Which brings me to “trim”.

“Trim” the Christmas tree by adding decorations but subtract a branch or two with a quick “trim”.

If you take part in a practice or tradition shared by many people, that’s a “custom” but it can also be a very unique thing, as a “custom-made” suit.

If you hire a lawyer, the type of “oversight” you receive can be a big difference.

One provides watchful, responsible care while the other is a mistake made to carelessness or forgetfulness.

Speaking of lawyers, they can “overlook” by monitoring and supervising but you don’t want them to “overlook” an important detail in that new contract.

Even my name is up for grabs.

Did you ever go to one or use one?

I’m flushed with excitement.

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