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Is Autological Heterological?

By Eric Solomon

This is just really fascinating, so I thought that I would share it.

An autological word is a word that describes itself. For example, “word” is a word. “Noun” is a noun. “Seventeen-lettered” is seventeen-lettered. You get the point.

But it gets more interesting. “Pentasyllabic” is autoglocial; it has five syllables. “Unhyphenated” does not have a hyphen; it is autological. You can pronounce “pronounceable”. The word “understandable” is indeed understandable.

But they do not even have to be words.

RAS syndrome (Redundant Acronym Syndrome syndrome) and TLA (three-letter acronym) are both autological.

Also, it can depend on context. For example,

  • first

  • penultimate

  • final

are all autological in the context of this list.

Heterological means just the opposite. It is a word that does not have the property that it denotes.

For example, there is “adjective” and also “Spanish.”

I will let you think about why they are heterological.


 Meet the Author: 

Eric Solomon

I will finish with the two most perplexing questions of them all:

Is “autological” autological?

Is “heterological” autological?

I will leave you with an excerpt from Henry Segerman:

“Following 'heterological' around on itself to try to find out if it is autological or heterological leads to contradictions either way.* 'Autological' on the other hand is consistent both ways, so [it] cannot be proved to be either autological or heterological using that method.

However, in a different sense, it is autological: the word itself is a constructive expression, meaning "self-sensical". In other words, the components of the word (and hence the word) describe the word. Which is precisely the meaning of the word 'autological'.”


*Try this yourself!


Excerpt taken from

If you are interested learning more about Eric or the rest of the Spectrum Staff, click the button to check out her biography, or go to 'WHo We Are." in the main menu.

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