Listen, I've had an absolutely gormful idea...

What in the name of Keith Floyd is a filled sandwich? ALL sandwiches are filled!
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The Independent Culture
HAS IT ever occurred to you that we are desperately short of opposites? Oh yes, we always think that English is a rich language, but there are many words in our language that are crying out for a word to express the opposite meaning, and the word simply isn't there, even if the meaning exists.

To get you thinking about this vital topic, here is a short list of such twins that have lost their opposite partner.


Where is the word to describe the opposite of shoplifting? We know what a shoplifter does. He or she goes into a shop, takes something from the shelf and leaves without paying. But what of the person who goes into a shop with some unwanted object concealed about their person, puts it on the shelf when nobody's looking and leaves? It's the opposite of shoplifting, and it's sometimes the only way out of difficulties, but we have no name for it.


"Submarine" means something below the water. How do you refer to things that are above water? I don't mean Mount Everest. I mean things like the upper half of a ship, or the top eighth of an iceberg. Supermarine? I'd like to think so, but I've never met it.

Learning difficulties

The opposite of a child with learning difficulties is a teacher with teaching difficulties. Every school has got at least one. But we never talk about them as such.

Filled rolls

We all know what a filled roll is. It's a roll that has been opened up, smeared inside with an almost invisible deposit of yellow substance, thinly stuffed with a mixture tasting either of the seashore at high tide (tuna) or nothing (cheese), then closed up again and sold at a profit. But what is the opposite of it? What is an unfilled roll? Not a roll that has never been filled, for that would be an empty roll. It must surely be a roll that has been filled and then emptied again. Who would want to do that? I hear you cry. I'll tell you who. You. At least, you would if you bought a filled roll and found it had got some noxious material like peanut butter or crab salad inside. So you scrape it out and go looking in the fridge for a better filling. Meanwhile, someone comes in and finds the scraped- out roll.

"What's this?" they cry. "A buttered roll?" Well, yes, it is, in a way, but it has also had a filling removed, so you say... well, what IS the opposite of a filled roll ? You see - we do need an expression for it. Occasionally.

STOP PRESS: Budgens stores have recently started advertising "filled sandwiches". What's going on here? What in the name of Keith Floyd is a filled sandwich? ALL sandwiches are filled! Wake up, Mr Budgen!

An icon

"Vidal Sassoon is an icon of hairdressing", they say. Leastways, I suppose they do. I know nothing about hairdressing. (I don't think Richmal Crompton did either, by the way. I was reading a Just William story to my son the other night, and came across this description of a rather nouvelle riche lady: "She became so agitated that the coiffeur on top of her head threatened to unravel and fall to bits..." I think Richmal Crompton meant "coiffure", but it's a wonderful image.)

I know nothing about hairdressing, as I was saying, but I'd love to know what the opposite of an icon is. If someone had brought shame and degradation on hairdressing, and lowered standards for a decade, what would you call this anti-icon?

Weather forecast

We all know what a weather forecast is. It's the episode in which a weatherperson predicts the weather we shall be getting in our part of the country. What we want is something quite different. It's an episode in which a weatherperson comes on the screen or radio, looks back at the weather of the past day or two, compares it to the forecast he had previously given and explains why they got it so lamentably and stupidly wrong, and apologises till little flags are coming out of his ears. Forecasts seem to be getting worse and worse. We need a meteorological post-mortem.

Feckless, listless, gormless, etc

People occasionally say "gruntled" and "couth" in fun, as if in fleeting recognition of this plague of missing opposites. Feckful, listful and gormful are another three we ought to give an airing to soon.

More non-opposites soon. All suggestions welcome