Why do some words not have opposites? Grant Huxley, Albany
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A lack of creativity. My two-year-old is learning opposites and recently coined the term “downset” as opposed to upset. HughShadow
Opposites is a very weird concept. It’s a construct that divides everything into a binary that doesn’t exist. It might make things seem simple, but they rarely are. Like divisiveness, opposites are more often a blunt instrument that creates conflict. They tend to close minds, which is not helpful. The universe has a multiplicity of facets and it depends where you’re looking from. If we were to be interested in different perspectives, rather than who is right or wrong (“I” am always right and “you” are always wrong), the world might be a better place.
Someone once told me the moon was the opposite of the sun, which sums up rather nicely how ridiculous the whole thing is. LorLala
There are 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t. BIlbomanX
If horrible is bad and horrific is bad, why is terrible bad and terrific good? Lordiggles
The idea of a standard prefix denoting the opposite has caused confusion with the words “flammable” and “inflammable” both having the same meaning. It was mentioned in a Simpsons episode some time back, and in real life I had to emphasise this fact to production technicians in a gas treatment plant who had English as a second or third language. Thistledae
Words generally indicate an identity (chiefly nouns), a quality (mainly adjectives or adverbs) or a relationship between words (conjunctions). Qualities tend to have a spectrum of appreciation on which opposites can exist (huge, big, medium, small, tiny). Nouns have no such natural spectrum. What is the opposite of elephant? There isn’t one, unless you choose to use “elephant” as an index for a quality (elephant/mouse for relative size, say). OldMediaTeacher
I don’t have a cle, but do have the opposite – an uncle. pannerrammer
My sister in law is called Ruth. I don’t have one who is ruthless. Tricoteuse
Gormless is another one that seems to only exist as a negative. I’m yet to hear a clever person being described as “full of gorm”. exlangrandeflaneuse
Who do you know who’s kempt, gruntled or combobulated? hros001
What about the difference between a fat chance and a thin chance? Peter Wool
Language develops through its own usage, not by somebody actively creating it. As a result, a word that is never required will not come into being, and a word that exists that is rarely used will eventually fall out of the language altogether.
So, some words have developed an opposite meaning through need or through usage of the opposite, while some have not.
Also, words that don’t seem to have opposites often do have them. They are just rarely used due to lack of modern requirement: you can indeed be kempt, for example, and gruntled (although the latter is believed to have been back-formed and not to have developed naturally).
But a person who thinks about their actions carefully before committing to them is indeed pulsive; one can be scathed; and something can be wieldy. Arcanics
I admit this is slightly off-piste, but I don’t speak any foreign languages and, while in the Netherlands, I came across the phenomenon of words that cannot be directly translated. I was left thinking: so, there are objects, human emotions, etc,that exist in one society and have words to describe them in their language. But these objects, human emotions, etc, do not exist in the other society and therefore there is no word to describe them. How can this be? JHatLpool
The distribution of meaning of words can be different between languages even when cognates exist. “Know” and “understand” exist in Japanese – shiru and wakaru – but are served up in different-size portions, something that used to drive my roommate mad.
Half-jokingly, he often complained: “The Japanese have a word for everything.” It’s true to a certain extent if you focus on just “a word”, but English has a tendency to use and reuse phrasal constructions – look no further than phrasal verbs, with 30 or 40 simple verbs combined with a dozen or so particles can be combined to yield hundreds, if not thousands, of discrete semantic units.
English extends its range with phrasal constructions, rather than single words. In addition to “white stuff”, we can use expressions such as corn snow, wet snow, dry snow, drifting snow and on and on. Essentially, every language is capable of expressing every imaginable nuance when pushed to it. Oikaze
In purely mathematical or logical terms, if something is part of a set of things, then there is no opposite condition, only an absence, so there is no point in having a word for it. To be “not angry” does not tell you that someone is happy; they may just be sad.
Also, for what it’s worth, in terms of Boolean algebra:
If A implies B,
then you cannot say NOT A implies NOT B,
you can only say NOT B implies NOT A
Moreover, why do some words – contronyms such as “sanction”, “fast” and “clip” – mean the opposite of themselves? Pubtalk
If everything had an opposite it would spoil the view. bricklayersoption