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?