Back in the early 1980s, I was asked to use the word oversight in the annual report I was translating. I warned the VP, Marketing that it was ambiguous, but he said that the president of the trust company I was working for wanted it. Well, he was the boss. Oversight would soon become
a popular buzzword meaning “management” or “supervision.” Conversely, it means something you have forgotten that results in an error, hence my hesitation. However, the context should tell you the meaning when you see a contronym as shown in the two examples below.
Well-known author Richard Lederer popularized the term contronym for words with opposite meanings in Curious Contronyms. Some people call them Janus words, after the Roman god Janus, who is always depicted with two faces looking in different directions. Here are some more examples:
N.B. Compensation means payment for services rendered or (compensatory) damages. Remuneration is often considered a synonym. However, remuneration means payment for services rendered in particular circumstances, such as the remuneration of the directors on a Board of Directors, and it never means damages. Employees usually receive compensation rather than remuneration. I had quite an argument about this with the VP, HR at the same trust company.
Some other contronyms are bolt, cleave, clip, consult, custom, execute, and garnish. Have fun with words!