I've started to collect examples of people using the opposite of X to describe something that is perhaps indescribable. Lexical gaps or even perhaps conceptual gaps. I know I could go and do big internet searches to find additional examples of these, but at the moment I'm enjoying serendipitous encounters with them. These are things I put in my notebook a while ago. They speak volumes about my personal taste:
- The Opposite of Us is a fictional tv show that's pitched in the tv show Episodes. The gimmick of the show is that it's about two different families, played by one set of actors.
- ‘Whatever the opposite of an erection is, I just got one’ (Episodes, series 4, ep. 5). The writers of Episodes seem to like this idiom.
"...The belief encouraged by the British that the Americans are vulgar and ostentatious by comparison with us is practically the opposite of the truth. They are generally much more tasteful and restrained." (p. 269)The beauty of this one is that a clear lexical opposite is available: the belief is practically false. But there's just that certain something that's communicated by not phrasing it in the more direct way.
And that's the thing about opposites: no matter how many potential opposites an expression might have, in any particular context, it is allowed only one opposite. You can look for a synonym of a word, but it's the opposite. None of the above opposite claims would be so effective if they were about an opposite of sex/fate/worldly/erection/the truth. That would be uninformative. Presupposing that there is a single not-quite-nameable opposite for these things gives the prose a certain connotative force. It is at risk of being overused, but I love it.
I will add more of these to the blog as serendipity brings them to me.
Update, later that evening: of course the next thing that happens after finishing this post is that I read this:
In the realm of physics, the opposite of matter is not nothingness, but antimatter. In the realm of practical epistemology, the opposite of knowledge is not ignorance but anti-knowledge. This seldom recognized fact is one of the prime forces behind the decay of political and civic culture in America. (The GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowledge by Mike Lofgren)