You would assume that the English language is such a great big box of tricks that you could always find an opposite for every word? We have health and sickness. Wealth and poverty. Flammable and inflammable. Spurs and Arsenal. Calm and stormy...
Hands up anyone who noticed that flammable and inflammable actually mean the same thing? They both mean "easily combustible". There is no opposite word. And that is why they have had to manufacture the word "non-inflammable". And in fact the more you look into English, the more you realise that there are a great many words which should have opposites and don't.
We talk, for instance, about children with learning difficulties. But there is a missing opposite here – namely, grown-ups with teaching difficulties. Every school has one.
We talk about road rage a lot. But what is the name for the opposite state of mind? The trance-state of mind in which some drivers go along placidly at about 22 mph, never overtaking anyone and never letting anyone overtake them? Usually elderly farmers and their wives, in my experience, who are used to the speed of a tractor and feel it is dangerous to exceed it, little realising that their placidity is driving other drivers to road rage.
Here is a small selection of other words or phrases that I feel need an opposite and do not have one.
As we all know, this is a useful word for someone who pushes their way into a party. But what about the guest with an invitation who decides fairly early on that the party is going to be a disaster, or has just seen the girl he loves arrive with someone else and decides to leave suddenly, without an excuse or a goodbye, and crashes out of the party? No word for that, I believe. (Similarly, there is no opposite for "bouncer". Ronnie Scott used to have a joke: "Business here at the club was so bad last week that the bouncers were throwing them in." But is there a word for that function?)
We all know what this means. Forward-looking, innovative, state of the art etc. But what about the opposite? What about art or technology that's lazy or traditional or the back of the field, bringing up the rear? "Blunt backside"? " Derrière-garde"? They used to say that innovative things were " le dernier cri". Did anyone ever say something was " le premier cri", meaning too fuddy duddy for words?
Is there a word for something that doesn't go through the air easily, because it's wind-resistant? Just asking.
An abbreviation for the French for "Please reply". So why is there no equivalent for "No Need To Answer"? In fact, why don't we start putting NNTA on invitations when we don't want an answer?
American reports from Salt Lake City noted sorrowfully that many American defeats and mishaps were greeted by foreign visitors with cheers from a crowd that had grown tired of American triumphalism. (Interestingly, one American comedian said on Radio 4 the other day that when comedians are playing in America, the audience doesn't laugh at jokes, it cheers and applauds them.) This pro-American, cheer-leading, flag-waving approach is often called gung ho. What is the opposite? Is there a word meaning, "mildly disenchanted with patriotism and disinclined to get excited about international sport?"
Another American word. It usually comes along with "wacky" and is always applied to a film that is so full of comic talent that there is not a funny moment in it. A very good recent example is Rat Race. Apparently it comes from a baseball term. A screwball is a pitcher's throw that goes the opposite way from a "curveball". So why don't we apply the word "curveball" to a quiet, sober comedy that makes you laugh?
There should be a name for the opposite of shoplifting – ie the act of taking an object into a shop and putting it on the shelves. I often do this myself, usually with unwanted second-hand books that I should never have bought in the first place.
If anyone wishes to bring any other missing opposites to my attention, I would be glad to hear from them.Reuse content