What is a contronym?

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A contronym, also known as a contranym or autantonym, is a word that has two meanings which are opposite to each other. This linguistic phenomenon is also referred to as enantiosemy, enantionymy, antilogy, or autantonymy1. For instance, the word "cleave" can mean "to cut apart" or "to bind together"1. Another example is the word "sanction," which can either signify permission to do something or a measure forbidding it to be done2. Contronyms can be true homographs, meaning they are distinct words with different etymologies but happen to have the same form. For example, "cleave" meaning "separate" is from Old English clēofan, while "cleave" meaning "adhere" is from Old English clifian, which was pronounced differently1. Other contronyms are a form of polysemy, where a single word acquires different and ultimately opposite definitions. For example, the word "transparent" can mean either something that is invisible or obvious4. Contronyms can be quite rare due to their unique characteristic of having contradictory meanings. However, they are used in everyday conversation and their correct usage can demonstrate a deep understanding of the English language4. When using contronyms, it's important to understand the context in which you're using the word, as you could end up saying the opposite of what you mean4. For example, the word "clip" can mean to attach or to cut off, depending on the context1. In summary, a contronym is a word that has two opposite meanings, and the correct meaning is determined by the context in which the word is used.
Related
What are some other examples of contronyms?
How can contronyms be confusing for language learners?
Are there any contronyms that are commonly used in everyday language?