Wednesday, 28 December 2016

More 3-year-old Groverisms

Found these in my Facebook memories from when Grover was 3:

Grover: Why did your alarm go off?
Me: Because it's 8 o'clock.
Grover: But it went ON, not off!

Me: You're a weirdo.
Grover: No, I'm a nice-o.

Opposite links

Paul Anthony Jones has a nice post on Mental Floss of "Words and phrases you didn't know had opposites"

A friend from my job in Texas has been 'cultivating the opposite' for the past year. Here's her reflection on it

the opposite of 'cry'

 From 'Bottom' with Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson:

        Eddie:       ...Cry did you?
        War veteran: Quite the opposite actually.
        Eddie:       What? You sucked water in through your eyes?

Happy for deep people

Sally Sparrow: I love old things. They make me feel sad.
Kathy Nightingale: What's good about sad?
Sally Sparrow: It's happy for deep people.
—'Blink', Doctor Who (2007)

'Downhill' as auto-antonym

Anne Curzan in the Lingua Franca blog,  'It's all downhill from here':
"A friend of mine’s daughter spotted a (semi-) auto-antonym — a word that has two opposing meanings — that was not on my radar: downhill. As she pointed out, the word can be positive when we use it metaphorically to refer to something getting easier from this point forward, and it can be very not positive when we use it metaphorically to refer to something (or everything!) getting worse from this point forward. It’s clearly not a perfect auto-antonym in that the meanings are not exactly semantic opposites (easier vs. worse), but it’s not outside the ballpark."

Monday, 19 December 2016

You know me and you don't: Chanel advertising

Perfume ads are the bane of the Christmas season. So much style, so little substance. So much self-importance, so little consequence.

Simon Koppel kindly pointed this one out to me. Do the contrasts say "Here's a perfume for any occasion?" or do they just cancel each other out and say "I am nothing"?

Monday, 21 November 2016

Dinosaur comics on opposites

Ryan North, author of Dinosaur Comics, likes a lexical relation. I don't want to steal his comics, so forgive the links-only approach. I'll do a little summary:

Sunday, 6 November 2016

election opposites

John Williams of Portsmouth University has been thinking about the American election in a way that I particularly enjoy: using voting strategies to illustrate antonym terminology (describing different logical types of opposition):

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

opposite Georges

Thursday, 4 August 2016


Oh my goodness, I've learned a new word that I can't believe I hadn't run across before in my work. Maybe I had, and forgot it. But anyhow:

“We lead not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.” That was Joe Biden (quoting Bill Clinton) at the Democratic National Convention, using perhaps a politician’s favorite rhetorical device: antimetabole. Great word, huh? It’s from the Greek, like so many literary terms of art, in this case a Greek word meaning “turning about.”

 This is from Lucy Ferris's blog post on the topic. Very useful!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Opposite songs special: Cake

I've given up sweets for most of June, so I'm thinking a lot about Cake.

Cake made it into the Opposites Playlist twice, once with Shirt Skirt/Long Jacket.

I love the lyrics to this song, and so I'll quote a bit more than necessary to point out another opposite in them:

I want a girl who gets up early
I want a girl who stays up late
I want a girl with uninterrupted prosperity
Who uses a machete to cut through red tape
With fingernails that shine like justice
And a voice that is dark like tinted glass

She is fast and thorough
And sharp as a tack
She's touring the facility
And picking up slack

I want a girl with a short skirt and a lonnnnng....  jacket

The other Opposites Playlist song had to be 'Sheep go to Heaven, Goats go to Hell'.

Both of the song titles use ancillary antonymy--antonyms in parallel structures in order to create a secondary contrast, so skirt and jacket are contextual opposites here, as are sheep and goats.

Heaven and Hell have a special place in my heart (or brain) because they are an example in Alan Cruse's Lexical Semantics that gave me some good food for thought when I was writing my first book, where I'm claiming that oppositeness is about minimal contextually relevant difference. So here's a big excerpt from my chapter 5:

Using Heaven/Hell as an example, Cruse notes that that opposition embodies others, including good/bad, up/down, and bliss/torment (and others, like light/dark and good/evil, are easily added to the list).  If so many differences are relevant in contrasting Heaven/Hell, how can we claim that their opposition involves minimal difference?  And even if we can make this claim, should we?
            Assuming that we are considering the semantic field of Judeo-Christian afterlife locales, the field allows at most (if you’re Catholic) two options to choose from when selecting an opposite for Heaven:  Hell or Purgatory.  Heaven and Hell, unlike Purgatory, have much in common:  they’re where one spends eternity, they reflect a definitive judgment on a person’s life, they have imagined physical locations, and each is the home of a supernatural lord and countless souls.  Nevertheless, this is probably an oversimplification of the problem.  The fact is, Heaven/Hell are similar because they have the same types of properties (such as judgment, location, inhabitants), but opposite instantiations of those property-types.  Each has a lord, but they’re opposite lords (god/devil).  Each has a location, but they’re opposite locations (up/down).  Thus, their similarities beget differences, and so it could be said that Heaven and Hell are as different as they are similar.
            Such differences-within-similarities are often favored over straight similarities in choosing opposites.  Let’s consider a larger contrast set:  winter/spring/summer/autumn.  Of these, winter/summer are most strongly contrasted as an opposite pair, and we can again see differences within similarities.  They both involve extreme temperatures, but one is hot and the other is cold.  They both (officially) start with solstices, but one involves long days/short nights and the other long nights/short days.  If opposition favored greatest similarities, then we should expect winter/autumn to be better opposites than winter/summer, since both are cool and dark.  But instead, we prefer the two that differ in symmetrical ways.
            The lesson to be learned from this is that similarity [...] runs deep in a good complex antonym pair.  Rather than the superficial similarity of contiguous temperatures (winter/autumn), we prefer the pair that is similar in extremity of temperature.  It matters less to us what the temperature is, than what type of temperature it is.  It’s this deeper similarity that makes the contrast between summer and winter symmetrical, diametrical, and truly incompatible (whereas autumn and winter could arguably overlap).  So, winter and summer are more similar in types of attributes than either is to autumn or spring.  (Murphy, Semantic Relations and the Lexicon, 2003)

Sunday, 12 June 2016

A Not-Suitable-for-Children case of simultaneous antonymy

Some work that we did in the oughties looked at the relative proportions of "Simultaneous Antonymy" (Steve Jones's term) in English, Swedish, and Japanese. Simultaneous use of antonyms is when both are used at the same time about the same thing, like It's both warm and cool now. You don't find many of these in English, but you find more in Swedish than in English, and more in Japanese than in Swedish. (The relevant articles are in our special issue of the Journal of Pragmatics.)

So I enjoyed finding this simultaneous case in the wild. The wild here being the Tiger Lillies' Facebook page (which is indeed fairly wild).

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

I'd rather live with a good question than a bad answer

I'd rather live with a good question than a bad answer. - Aryeh A. Frimer

This quotation was on the Twitter profile of someone who followed me today, and it's perfect, both as an example of ancillary antonymy and parallelism (nerd stuff) and as an explanation for students about why we academics do what we do.

I make a policy of 'teaching the controversy' as they say. I try not to teach linguistic problems as if they are solved. We have models of how language works, but none of those models has explained everything. The models tend to contrast markedly in some of their basic assumptions--that is, their answers to basic questions like: Is language a mental faculty unto itself or part of general cognition? What is meaning? What does it mean for a word to be "meaningful"? etc.

That policy came about after my experience shifting from an undergraduate degree in Linguistics & Philosophy to a Master's/PhD program(me) in Linguistics at a different university. Wanting to excuse me from any repetitive material, the nice people at the new university asked "Which theories did you study?" And I couldn't answer. Because the way I'd been taught it, I didn't know it was called anything other than "Syntax". (It was Chomskyan stuff, and I enjoy the irony of the existence of a Chomskyan hegemony in Linguistics--at least in certain places.)

So, there I was doing my usual kind of teaching to an MA class at my current university. I think it may have been about the critical period in first language acquisition. Here are the arguments for, here are the arguments against. And a really frustrated student blurted out: "Aren't you ever going to tell us the right answer to anything?" And I said "If we knew all the answers, I wouldn't have a reason to get up in the morning." And so we talked a bit about how nobody really knows much of anything about anything. We have better ideas and worse ideas. And some of the ideas look better in some lights, and others look better in other lights.

At the end of her degree, the student came up to me and said that that "getting out of bed in the morning" answer had stuck with her and changed how she looked at things.

And that, my friends, is the highest compliment a teacher can ever get.

But if that situation comes up again, I'm going to follow on with that quotation from Aryeh A. Frimer, and I'll feel grateful to @kabrunotte for posting it.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Opposites in terminology

Not a journal our library subscribes to, so I'm putting this here to remember it:

Opposite relationships in terminology


This article studies a family of semantic relationships that is often ignored in terminological descriptions, i.e. opposite relationships that include, but are not limited to, antonymy. We analyze English and French terms classified in an environmental database as opposites (Eng. polluting; green, afforestation; deforestation; Fr. réchauffer; refroidir, atténuation; intensification) and revise this first classification based on typologies and criteria supplied by literature on lexical semantics, psycholinguistics and corpus linguistics. Our revised classification shows that diversified opposite relationships can be observed between terms. They also appear to display the same complexity as in general language. Finally, in some cases, the nature of concepts in the specific subject field must be taken into consideration.

Friday, 20 May 2016

three words game

A Facebook friend posted the following:

Silly game doing the rounds: what are the three words that are the absolutely least likely words to be used to describe you ?
What interested me was how people went about answering this question--i.e. "think of how I'd describe myself, then think of the opposite".

I used a different strategy: pick three words that probably wouldn't cross my mind when thinking about myself. I'd maintain this is the more reliable strategy.

Others have mostly chosen some fairly broad scalar adjectives, this means:

  1. They're all relative. The person who says they'd never be described as tall might well be so described by a four-year-old. Someone might well say he's too monogamous for my liking about someone else who thinks they're unlikely to be described as monogamous.
  2. Some of words can apply to different things. You may be unlikely to be described as conservative in your politics (though, see (1), you might well be conservative in comparison to someone else). But what about your haircut? The way you load the dishwasher? The way you make bets at the races? You may well be conservative in some domain.
  3. Even if you're at the lowest extreme of the scale of tallness, monogamy, conservatism, you're still on that scale. So the word is likely to come up in describing you, whether it's negated or said sarcastically or whatever.
If you describe me, there will be little cause to say I'm not haemophiliac, not Korean, or a little bit pencilcase unless we traipse into metaphor. (Maybe I could have chosen a bit better for the last one, as the metaphors from it might be too close to me.)

But I'm not writing this to say that I won this game. (But, c'mon, I did.) I'm writing it to say: isn't it interesting how we immediately reach for antonyms when we think about what things are not.  I just had a slice of pizza for lunch. It was not very spicy. It was not very warm. But it was really not very periwinkle, oceanic, or batik. While the relative warmth of my pizza is relevant, it's not very much fun to think about. Thinking about the fact that my pizza was not batik might amuse me for the rest of the afternoon.

But then, that's me.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

dog, not cat

Another thing I failed to cite when writing about antonyms. In my 2003 book I make the case that dog can be considered the opposite of cat, and here's Baldrick defining dog as 'not a cat'.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

tool v weapon

Another book title

What I like here is the ancillary relation between tool and war.  That is to say, putting tool and weapon into parallel structures with conventional opposites war and peace means that we treat them as opposites as well, when otherwise they're in a hyponym relation. That is to say, logically/usually weapon is a type of tool not an opposite to it. If I that-is-to-say enough, I eventually get to English.

Or, another way to think of it is that maybe tool has two senses, one which is a hyponym of the other. One means 'instrument used to commit some act' and the other means 'instrument used to build things' or something like that. In that case it's the second meaning that it opposite to weapon.

I'd vote against two senses, and say that we interpret whether tool is a positive or negative thing according to context. Does it lean toward positive connotations? Well, when I look at the nouns that occur after tool of, they're telling me that tool does not have positive vibes. These are from the Corpus of Contemporary American English:

There are just as many tool of war and tool of oppression as there are tool of diplomacy and tool of empowerment.  So, tool doesn't seem to have strongly negative or positive associations. But it seems positive when it's put with peace and opposed to weapon in the book title.

As long as I'm writing about positive/negative associations, I'll just mention something else I saw today.  I can't remember what it was advertising (something local), but it said something like We put the taste in tasty. And that made me think how different a slogan we put the smell in smelly would be. (It's likely that smelly is interpreted negatively and tasty positively because we use smell to select the things we'll taste.  So we tend to experience good tastes because the bad ones have already been weeded out at the smell stage.)

(Thanks to Jesse Sheidlower for retweeting the above tweet.)

Saturday, 7 May 2016


Congratulations to Sadiq Khan, elected Mayor of London yesterday. Though I'm not in London, I've enjoyed the news, consumed mostly through Twitter.

This one really belongs on my other blog:
But here's the name-based antonym content:

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Black and white aren't opposites?

Interesting headline: Black and White Aren't Opposites After All

The science is very interesting, but also interesting is the assumption that being asymmetrical disqualifies something from being an opposite. I can see why they'd say that, but I can't think of a single opposite that isn't asymmetrical when you stop to think about it.

Monday, 2 May 2016

The Opposite of: a book title cliché

I've mentioned some of these in other places, but I wanted to have them all in one place. Just book titles here. Any conclusions to draw from them? Do you think the four "The Opposite of Love"s come to different conclusions about what the opposite of love is?