Phantom maskI came across an interesting article in the New York Times about words that look as though they mean one thing but mean another – the author suggested they be named phantonyms.

These words crop up so often in the English language that their ‘new’ meanings are becoming more and more accepted. Here are some examples from the article:

Disinterested is occasionally used as if it means uninterested — indifferent or bored. For example, a Times article in February 2008 described Senator Joseph Lieberman as “so disinterested in the Democratic presidential candidates” that he didn’t vote in the primary. Nine out of 10 American Heritage Dictionary authorities would reject that usage. The favored definition is unbiased or impartial, as in Adam Liptak’s article in The Times in March 2008 about foreign judges: “Punishments, they say, should be meted out only by the criminal justice system . . . and disinterested prosecutors.”

Enervated. Appearances can be deceiving, as when an NPR commentator described the men fighting a fire in Nevada as tired but enervated by their progress. The word, a phantonym of energized, in fact means weakened.

Fortuitous looks like lucky, as it did to an official at N.Y.U. when Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, accepted an appointment as a professor: “It was so fortuitous,” she said. But the word means “happening by chance,” says The Times’s Manual of Style and Usage. “It does not mean fortunate.”

Can you think of any other phantonyms?