You can sit opposite your chess partner or have an opposite opinion from one less liberal than you. Not only does the word opposite have a variety of meanings, it can also bring out differences within words themselves.

Some words actually mean the opposite of what they appear to suggest. If you are described as enervated, it sounds a bit like being energized. In reality it means weakened. Originally the word meant to cut the nerves or tendons; later it came to mean “to lessen the strength of.”

The word "factoid" is often thought to point to a fun, trivial fact. Norman Mailer coined it in 1973 to describe “facts” invented by reporters. The suffix “-oid” suggests something like, but not really (humanoid, planetoid). So a factoid resembles a fact, but isn’t one.

If you are in a noisome environment, does this imply a great deal of racket? Not at all. This word describes something obnoxiously smelly (not the opposite, but surely unexpected).

You may carefully seek baby clothing that resists fire; inflammable does not indicate fireproof. It actually refers to something easily inflamed.

And then there are those words that can be their own opposites. If you dust, you may either add fine particles (dust with sugar) or remove fine particles (dust your furniture).

The word "left" refers to something or someone who has departed (he left the party) or to that which remains (there were two cookies left).

An oversight is both watchful care (his oversight kept us in order) or an error due to neglect (it was an oversight that his name was misspelled).

If you screen a movie, you show it, or a screen may provide the ability to hide certain details.

When we resign a job, we quit, but we can also resign, meaning to sign up again. These two are homographs (spelled the same), but they are not homophones (same pronunciation).

Most of us are familiar with the two opposing definitions of sanction. It can allow official permission or approval for (sanctioning certain behavior), or, conversely, it may impose restrictions or penalties upon (sanctioning a country or government with taxes).

Finally, if you have weathered (withstood and come through) this verbal inventory, then your interest in words won’t be weathered (eroded or worn away).

So, hang in there, but not by a noose!

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years. If you have grammar questions, email her at