Sanction has two nearly opposite meanings: to sanction can be to approve of something, but it can also mean to punish, or speak harshly to. Likewise, a sanction can be a punishment or approval. Very confusing — the person who invented this word should be publicly sanctioned!

See if you can guess the meaning of sanction in the following contexts. Before invading Iraq, the U.S. and its allies first imposed sanctions on the country, refusing to supply the country with much-needed trade items. Did you guess that sanction = "punishment"? You were right! But by trading with China at the same time, the U.S. quietly sanctioned that nation's known instances of human rights abuses. Did you guess that sanction = "approval"? You're right again!

Definitions of sanction
  1. noun
    official permission or approval
    synonyms: authorisation, authority, authorization
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    type of:
    approval to do something
  2. noun
    formal and explicit approval
    synonyms: countenance, endorsement, imprimatur, indorsement, warrant
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    O.K., OK, okay, okeh, okey
    an endorsement
    an endorsement made in a passport that allows the bearer to enter the country issuing it
    nihil obstat
    the phrase used by the official censor of the Roman Catholic Church to say that a publication has been examined and contains nothing offensive to the church
    type of:
    approval, commendation
    a message expressing a favorable opinion
  3. noun
    the act of final authorization
    “it had the sanction of the church”
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    benefit of clergy
    sanction by a religious rite
    by the sanction or authority of
    nihil obstat
    authoritative approval
    type of:
    authorisation, authorization, empowerment
    the act of conferring legality or sanction or formal warrant
  4. verb
    give authority or permission to
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    type of:
    authorise, authorize, empower
    give or delegate power or authority to
  5. verb
    give sanction to
    synonyms: O.K., approve, okay
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    disapprove, reject
    deem wrong or inappropriate
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    approve officially
    back, endorse, indorse, plump for, plunk for, support
    be behind; approve of
    support a person for a position
    guarantee, warrant
    stand behind and guarantee the quality, accuracy, or condition of
    champion, defend
    protect or fight for as a champion
    type of:
    authorise, authorize, clear, pass
    grant authorization or clearance for
  6. verb
    give religious sanction to, such as through on oath
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    type of:
    O.K., approve, okay
    give sanction to
  7. noun
    a mechanism of social control for enforcing a society's standards
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    type of:
    social control
    control exerted (actively or passively) by group action
  8. noun
    the act of punishing
    synonyms: penalisation, penalization, penalty, punishment
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    castigation, chastisement
    verbal punishment
    corporal punishment
    the infliction of physical injury on someone convicted of committing a crime
    cruel and unusual punishment
    punishment prohibited by the 8th amendment to the U.S. Constitution; includes torture or degradation or punishment too severe for the crime committed
    a punishment in which a student must stay at school after others have gone home
    correction, discipline
    the act of punishing
    economic strangulation
    punishment of a group by cutting off commercial dealings with them
    putting someone in prison or in jail as lawful punishment
    medicine, music
    punishment for one's actions
    punishment inflicted on yourself
    threat of a penalty
    penance, self-abasement, self-mortification
    voluntary self-punishment in order to atone for some wrongdoing
    beating, drubbing, lacing, licking, thrashing, trouncing, whacking
    the act of inflicting corporal punishment with repeated blows
    self-punishment inflicted by whipping
    the act of slapping on the buttocks
    electric shock
    the use of electricity to administer punishment or torture
    capital punishment, death penalty, executing, execution
    putting a condemned person to death
    gantlet, gauntlet
    a form of punishment in which a person is forced to run between two lines of men facing each other and armed with clubs or whips to beat the victim
    kick in the butt
    punishment inflicted by kicking the victim in the behind
    lapidation, stoning
    the act of pelting with stones; punishment inflicted by throwing stones at the victim (even unto death)
    type of:
    social control
    control exerted (actively or passively) by group action
  9. verb
    impose a penalty on; inflict punishment on
    synonyms: penalise, penalize, punish
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    avenge, retaliate, revenge
    take revenge for a perceived wrong
    smear the body of (someone) with tar and feathers; done in some societies as punishment
    execute, put to death
    kill as a means of socially sanctioned punishment
    punish by putting in a pillory
    inflict severe punishment on
    punish with an arbitrary penalty
    victimise, victimize
    punish unjustly
    punish severely; excoriate
    correct, discipline, sort out
    punish in order to gain control or enforce obedience
    get back, get even
    take revenge or even out a score
    kill by nailing onto a cross
    burn at the stake
    hang, string up
    kill by hanging
Word Family

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