Richard Ledderer relates the story that when St. Paul's Cathedral burned in the fire of 1666, Sir Christopher Wren was hired to rebuild it. After 35 years of work the new building was finished and Queen Anne came to see it. After a tour she told Sir Christopher that his cathedral was "awful, artificial and amusing." He was delighted! What splendid praise from the queen!
"Awful" of course meant awe inspiring. "Artificial" meant that it was very artisticly fashioned. And "amusing" meant that it was inspired by the muses, a godlike creation. How could these words have changed meaning so much in just three hundred years? They in fact mean something like the opposite now compared to what Queen Anne meant and what Sir Christopher understood.
It is an odd but common phenomenon that words can have two absolutely contrary meanings. In the end one of them usually gives way to the other so that we are left with but a single meaning and we forget that the other meaning once held sway. This is one reason people need to use their minds extra well when they read the King James Bible and Shakespeare. They are older yet, and words have changed even more than since Queen Anne's day. But that's another story.
For now, consider a few words that we use every day that still have two diametrically opposed meanings that are both more or less standard. Will one meaning eventually win out? Who knows?
Weather-- (to wear down, to stand up well) I love the weathered look on old courthouses. This boat is built to weather any storm.
With -- (for, against) If you refuse to go to war with us against the infidels, then we will consider ourselves to already be in a state of war with you.
Clip -- (disattach, attach) After you clip the coupon, please clip it to the shopping list.
Left -- (gone, remaining) Q-If six children were playing in a schoolyard, and two left, how many were left? A-None, they were alright.
Of course there are hundreds more of these contronyms. What about fast, bolt, mortal, out, etc.
What favorites do you have that should be added to the list?