Sometimes, just to heighten the confusion, the same word ends up with contradictory meanings. This kind of word is called a contronym. Sanction, for instance, can either signify permission to do something or a measure forbidding it to be done. Cleave can mean to cut in half or stick together. A sanguine person is either hotheaded and bloodthirsty or calm and cheerful. Something that is fast is either stuck firmly or moving quickly. A door that is bolted is secure, but a horse that has bolted has taken off. If you wind up a meeting you finish it; if you wind up a watch, you start it. To ravish means to rape or to enrapture. Quinquennial describes something that lasts for five years or happens only once in five years. Trying one’s best is a good thing, but trying one’s patience is a bad thing. A blunt instrument is dull, a blunt remark is pointed. Occasionally when this happens the dictionary makers give us different spellings to differentiate the two meaningsâ€”as with flour and flower, discrete and discreetâ€”but such orthological thoughtfulness is rare.
Bryson, Bill. The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way. HarperCollins, 1990. p. 70â€“1