Janus was the Roman god of gateways and doors. He is usually pictured with two faces on one head; one looks forward and the other looks backwards. This led scribes to create the term Janus words or antogonyms and amphibolus words to describe one word that can have opposite meanings. Some are nouns and others are verbs. Context helps us determine the intent of these words. As writers, we need to make sure our settings make clear to the reader the intended definition of any Janus words.
BOUND: to move quickly; unable to move. The deer bound into the woods. Jack woke up to find his arms bound.
CULL: to reject; select. Jill culled the peas looking for rotten ones. Jill culled the job applications looking for specific criteria.
HYSTERICAL: funny; being overwhelmed with fear. Ben thought Bill’s parody was hysterical. John became hysterical when he was wheeled into the operating room.
BUCKLE: to hold together; to fall apart. I bought the belt because I liked the way it buckled. Jack buckled when the doctor gave him the news.
MAD: liking something ; anger or hatred. I’m mad about my new Jimmy Choo shoes. I’m mad that Neiman Marcus did not carry the Jimmy Choo style shoes I wanted.
PRICELESS: having high value; having no value. The Hope diamond is priceless. This old vase should be thrown out; it is priceless.
ACT: sincere deed; pretend behavior. Saving the child from the oncoming car was an act of speed. John knew he'd better act as if he were having a good time at the party.
LEFT: gone away; remaining. Mary left this morning for college. I ate what’s left of the pie.
FINE: meets minimum standards; considerably above the norm. “Your report is fine,” said my boss and she returned to her work. Conrad gave a fine display of courage under fire by his actions.
HOLD UP: support; hinder, delay. Jack fixed a crutch so the tree would hold up until the arborist got there. If Jim didn’t arrive soon, he would hold up the presentation.
RESERVATIONS: hesitant about something; firm commitment. My boss had reservations about my project idea. Darren made reservations for the hotels we needed for vacation.
WEATHER: endure; erode. Sean’s trailer weathered the high winds well. The fence at the old ranch had a weathered look.
CLIP: separate; keep together. Dad wanted to clip the hedges. Mom looked for a clip for my hair.
SCREEN: to view; hide. Wilder was going to screen his new film at 7. Bob build a screen around the air conditioner.
CLEAVE: to bring together; break apart. The minister said, “Cleave unto each other forever.” Dave looked for the ax to cleave the broken tree.
OVERSIGHT: a kind of error; to follow often. The oversight cost the company millions. Anne was charged with the oversight of the new project.
TEMPER: to strengthen or to soften. Steel is tempered with other metals. He tempered his responses despite the angry words from his boss.
BOLT: to secure; to start suddenly and leave quickly. I installed a new bolt on the shed. The robber was about to bolt when he saw the policeman.
SEED: to put into; remove. I tilled the garden and I can seed it tomorrow. Did you seed the grapes before you washed them?
STEM: to start something; to stop something. He hoped his new ideas would stem action. Larry was told to stem his sloppy work habits.
COOL: approving; opposed to. Makayla thought the concert was cool. Her boss was cool to the proposed plan.
SNAP: to break apart; to close together. The coach yelled, "Let's snap this losing streak!" Megan learned to snap her jacket herself.
SLIP: to hold; to fall. The slip for my boat was expensive. I put sand on the steps so no one would slip.
Give yourself a few minutes to see if you can make up two sentences for each word in which these meanings are the opposite.
Cut, custom, moot, dust, root, scan, stain, rock, last, and patronize.