Janus Words

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If you’ve read our blog post on where we get our names for the months of the year from, you will know that the month ‘January’ takes its name from Janus the god of beginnings and transitions. Janus’s image – usually depicted with two heads, one looking back into the past and the other looking forward into the future – is often found carved over doorways and gates.

A Janus word is a word with contradictory meanings. These words are also known as contronyms and auto antonyms.

Here are 20 examples of Janus words used in sentences:

  1. Bolt: to fasten/secure, to flee
    • We bolt the door at night.
    • The cat bolted away.
  2. Bound: to tie someone or something to a particular spot or thing, to (prepare to) go to a specific place
    • They were bound forever by the wonderful memories they shared.
    • He’s bound for Europe next month.
  3. Clip: to attach, to cut
    • She clipped the pages together to stop any from getting lost.
    • The hairdresser clipped a little too much of my hair off.
  4. Dust: to remove dust, to add (metaphorical) dust
    • He made sure to dust the house before his parents came to visit.
    • He dusted the cake with icing sugar.
  5. Fast: firmly fixed/attached, (capable of) moving fast
    • They remained fast friends.
    • She was a fast swimmer.
  6. Fine: excellent, satisfactory
    • There’s supposed to be fine weather on Saturday.
    • The siblings had a fine relationship but they were by no means good friends.
  7. First degree: most severe, least severe
    • He was charged with first-degree murder.
    • It was only a first-degree burn and my skin is already healing well.
  8. Hold up: to support, to obstruct
    • He held his head up and faced his classmates despite knowing they were gossiping about him.
    • He wanted to face up to his classmates who bullied him but his fear held him up.
  9. Lease/Rent: to pay someone to use their property, to offer someone use of your property in exchange for payment
    • We leased/rented a house in France for our holiday.
    • They lease/rent out their flat when they aren’t using it.
  10. Left: to have gone away from, remaining
    • They left the party early.
    • They were the last ones left at the party.
  11. Mean: unkind/aggressive/spiteful, excellent
    • He wished his teacher wasn’t so mean.
    • He makes a mean pasta bake.
  12. Peer: a member of the nobility, an equal
    • In the UK the ranks of the peerage are duke, marquess, earl, viscount, and baron.
    • My assignment will be marked by my peers.
  13. Refrain: to stop/abstain, a repetition
    • Please refrain from smoking indoors.
    • There’s a refrain at the end of each verse in the poem.
  14. Seed: to sow seeds, to remove seeds
    • It is important to seed plants at the right time of year so that they can grow in the best conditions.
    • Chop and seed the chillies before adding them to the sauce.
  15. Strike: to hit/succeed, to miss/fail
    • They struck gold.
    • He was struck out.
  16. Transparent: invisible/see-through, apparent/obvious
    • We visited a beautiful beach with transparent waters.
    • Her expression made her views transparent.
  17. Trim: to decorate/adorn, to cut away excess
    • Each year the family gathers to trim the Christmas tree.
    • The gardener trims the hedges frequently.
  18. Wear: to deteriorate, able to withstand deterioration
    • My jeans always wear away at the knees.
    • The dress has at least another year of wear left in it.
  19. Weather: to withstand, to deteriorate
    • The ship is built to weather a storm.
    • The cliffs have weathered over the years.
  20. Wind up: to power something up to make it start, to gradually bring something to an end
    • You need to wind the toy train up to make it run.
    • It’s time for the meeting to end– please wind up all discussions.

How many Janus words can you think of?

20 Jan 2017
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