Auto-Antonym? (Updated)

An auto-antonym is a word that has two meanings: it means one thing and also its opposite. The perfect example of an auto-antonym is inflammable which means incapable of burning and also capable of burning. Useful, no?

Is aberration the newest auto-antonym?

Boosted by the federal government’s “cash for clunkers” program, U.S. auto sales in August surged to their highest monthly total in more than a year, bolstering hopes that the industry’s recovery will continue in the months ahead.

Car makers expect a sales dip in September but they are confident the U.S. economy is gradually improving and the broader trend in car sales is positive.

“September will be an aberration,” Ken Czubay, vice president of U.S. sales and marketing at Ford Motor Co. said in a conference call. He said Ford is encouraged by positive economic indicators, such as rising home prices and housing starts, and expects that the pace of auto sales in the fourth quarter will be stronger than in the first half.

The way I’d define aberration is as a marked deviation from the norm or from trend. Now consider the graph above of U. S. auto sales. By what stretch of the imagination would a return to flat or slowly rising auto sales sharply below 2007 levels following the “Cash for Clunkers” program be an aberration? Does aberration now mean both a marked deviation from the norm or from trend and a return to the baseline?


Other auto-antonyms include fast, cleave, sanction, and let. The last means either allow or prohibit (mostly in the legal phrase “without let or hindrance”). There’s a sizeable list here.

Update 2

In case you’re wondering about the August up-tick that took place in 2008, that’s an artifact of end of model year specials. Traditionally, U. S. automakers have closed for re-tooling in August and introduced new models in September. That’s not as true now as it used to be.

2 comments… add one
  • Drew Link

    First, the nit picking. Isn’t it true that inflammable is derived from the Latin “in flames?” But in English, “in” connotes “not.”
    Hence the word is apples and oranges by country of origin, rather than an auto-antonym? But now setting aside the silliness of being bored today…..

    I’m afraid you are correct, Dave. I’ll be damned if I can think of a good argument why this wasn’t a one time, temporary shot in the arm, not a sustaining initiative.

    This of course is the criticism of any Keynesian stimulative move: once its over, its over. And then you live with the debt.

    Sorry Professor Krugman.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I bought a G.M. car in 2005, in the midst unprecedented rebates, interest offers, and employee pricing. While I was waiting for the dealer to fill up the gas tank (give me more!!!), I talked with the salesperson who confessed that he was scared that with all of the sales and deals over the last few years, people won’t be coming back for a long time.

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