The Antonym Puzzler... Explained

The Puzzler


New Puzzler: Antonym


RAY: Ha! We're back. You're listening to Car Talk with us, Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, and we're here to discuss cars, car repair and the new Puzzler.

TOM: I can hardly wait. You said this was like a season-ending thing?

RAY: This is season-ending, but never-ending.

TOM: Ahh! Because you don't know the answer!

RAY: Well, you'll see that there isn't one answer, necessarily.

TOM: Oh! That's very good!

RAY: Well, I don't know about very good, but it's different.

TOM: So, thousands of people could win.

RAY: I've known this Puzzler for years, and I used to know one of the answers to it. But I believe there's more than one answer. There may be many. There may be hundreds, and you, our listeners, will find that out. And I was reminded of it recently when I received an e-mail from a guy named Claude Warren from...I don't know...who the hell knows where he comes from.

TOM: Cyberspace.

RAY: Anyplace.

TOM: Alien.

RAY: He says, as you probably know, there are words that are opposites and they're called antonyms; for example, hot and cold, up and down, Click and Clack. Even spelled antonyms out phonetically for us, in case we were complete...

TOM: Too stupid.

RAY: Complete dimwits.

TOM: Yeah, well what would make him think that?

RAY: He says, can you think of two words that are their own antonyms? Well, I've known these two words for a long time.

TOM: The two are easy. The two are easy.

RAY: Well, they ain't that easy, and I don't think the vast majority of people would come up with even these two. But I'm going to give you these two, because I know there are more. The first one is cleave. I'll give you a sentence: You cleave things apart with a cleaver...meat cleaver; or, Your lug nuts may cleave to your studs, making them impossible to remove without a very hot torch. Right?

TOM: Or...

RAY: So, cleave means to...

TOM: The cleavage you are looking at...No, no, never mind. I'll leave that part out.

RAY: Oh, God.

TOM: Are we in trouble again? Yeah. I know.

RAY: It's always you! The other word is sanction.

TOM: Yeah!

RAY: And here's a sentence that Claude Warren gave to us: NASCAR sanctions stock-car races, but a driver who runs another into a wall may be sanctioned by NASCAR.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: It's clear that in these two instances, cleave has two meanings which are diametrically opposed, and so does sanction. The question very simply is: Are there other words like this?

TOM: And, if there are, what are they?

RAY: Sure.

[ Car Talk Puzzler ]


The Antonym Puzzler

...Explained--And Some Of the Ones We Liked

We said there are at least two words in the English language that are their own antonyms. And, we mentioned "cleave" and "sanction" as two examples. You can cleave to something (i.e., attach yourself to it), and you can cleave away from something (i.e., peel away from it.) There's also "cleavage," which we wholeheartedly approve of, but which is completely irrelevant to this discussion. Similarly, you can sanction something (endorse it), or impose sanctions (prohibit it.)

So... our question was, are there other words that are their own antonyms? And, our listeners came up with many, many ideas.

We've picked out some of our favorites. We narrowed the list considerably, by requiring that the words be the same form of speech. So, "fast" doesn't count, because although its meanings can be opposite, in one case ("he is a fast runner"), it is an adjective, and in another ("I was held fast to my seat"), it's an adverb.

Here are the ones we liked:


...which means to add dust or remove dust, as in "I'm going to dust the furniture," or, "I'm going to dust for fingerprints."



...which means to tangle, or to untangle.


...which means either "awesome" or "terrible." As in, "I've got a terrific headache," or, "That was a terrific vacation."


seed add seeds or remove seeds, as in "I seeded my lawn," or, "I seeded the watermelon."

Then, there were others, like "skin"... to put skin on, or to remove skin, as in, "you can skin a cat," or, "you can skin a drum."

Those were the ones we liked. Don't agree with us? Fine. File a formal protest. Note: All protests must include dictionary definitions. (Protests submitted without authentic dictionary definitions will be forwarded to

Got more examples? Send them in!

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