Contronyms – fascinating word types

Today I learnt about contronyms – words that have two meanings that are the opposite of each other. I’d seen a post on reddit about interesting words you might know, and one of the comments listed the otherwise unremarkable word unlockable, but also added the two meanings. At that point everything fell into place and many more words were listed by other commenters: shelled, clipped, dust (as a  verb).

Of course, reddit being reddit, a debate started whether the two definitions of unlockable where actually the opposite of each other:

Definition 1: Incapable of being locked.
Definition 2: Capable of being unlocked.

Fun times.

Today I learned: Contronyms.

One step at a time: Google plays the longest game around

Slashdot has informed me of a HuffPo piece by Found in Translation co-author Nataly Kelly about Google hiring Ray Kurzweil, potentially the world’s most eccentric dork.

The beauty of the web shines through when a commentator can sum it up and extrapolate better than the original post:

You need to investigate the entire initiative Google is spearheading around its acquisition of Metaweb. They are building an ontology for human knowledge, and are ultimately building the semantic networks necessary for creating an inference system capable of human level contextual communication. The old story about the sad state of computers’ contextual capacity, recounts the story of the computer that translates the phrase “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” from English to Russian and back and what they got was “The wine is good but the meat is rotten.”

The new system won’t have this problem. Because it will instantly know about the reference coming from the Bible. I will also know all the literary links to the phrase, the importance of its use in critical historical conversations, The work of the Saints, the despair of martyrs, in short an entire universe of context will spill out about the phrase and as it takes the conversational lead provided by the enquirer it will dance to deliver the most concise and cogent responses possible. In the same way, It will be able to apprehend the relationship between a core communication given in context ‘A’ and translate that conversation to context ‘B’ in a meaningful way.

Ray is a genius for boiling complex problems down into tractable solution sets. Combine Ray’s genius with the semantic toy shop that Google has assembled, and the informational framework for an autonomous intellect will become. The real question is how you make something like that self aware. There’s a another famous story about Helen Keller, before she had language. symbolic reference, she lived like an animal. Literally a bundle of emotions and instincts. One moment, one utterly earth shattering moment there was nothing, then Annie Sullivan her teacher placed her hand in a stream of cold water and signed water in her palm. Ellen understood… water. In the next moment Ellen was born as a distinct and conscious being, she learned that she had a name, that she was. I don’t know what that moment will look like for machines, I just know its coming sooner than we think. I also can’t be certain whether it will be humanities greatest achievement or our worst mistake. That awaits seeing.


Personally, I’ll be moving off the iOS/iPhone platform as soon as possible when I return to Australia, but for those that are still happy with it there is a new language app called Mantaphrase:

Mantaphrase is an interactive communication app that lets you have a conversation in a foreign language.

I’ve not tried it yet as I can barely update this site on current connections, but there are a couple of things to like straight off the bat:

Works Offline

We know you might not have access to an internet connection when you’re travelling. Mantaphrase works on or offline, so you don’t need to worry about getting a signal.


See a history of your past conversations. You can refer back to the responses you have received in the past at your own convenience.

English, Trad and Simplified Chinese, Japanese and French (added today!) are the languages covered at the moment.