Opposites Attract: The World of Antonyms

He says, she says.  Good verses evil.  Not everything is black and white. Yin and yang. Stop and go. We use opposites every day.  In the grammarian’s world they are called antonyms.  They seem fairly cut and dried, there’s not much of a gray area when it comes to antonyms. Its all easy-peasy.

Well, it’s not always that simple.  Take the word “good.” Is its antonym “bad” or “evil” or “demonic” or “Satanic”? Would “twisted,” “deviant,” or “monstrous” qualify as an antonym?  How about “tainted,” “rotten,” or “incompetent?” You see, that’s the catch. A single word might have multiple definitions and therefore have multiple antonyms.  Some antonyms might be more appropriate or more widely accepted (in a survey “bad” would probably be the number one choice as the antonym of “good”). Some words might have only one opposite (black and white, left and right, up and down)

Several months ago my niece had a conversation with a friend. I don’t recall what the conversation was about but in the course of the discussion, the question was posed: “what is the opposite of love?” She immediately threw out the widely accepted antonym “hate.” He told her that he disagreed.  He felt that the opposite of love was “indifference.”  That idea has stuck with me ever since.

That answer rang very true to me.  Love and hate are very close and very strong emotions. One can turn into the other in an instant. Love is all about devotion, selflessness and putting someone or something above all else.  Love burns in one’s very soul.  Love is all. Indifference on the other hand is all about not caring, taking it or leaving it, having no connection at all. Indifference takes no work or energy, while hate can be as all-consuming as love. I think it might actually hurt more to find out that someone was devoid of any feeling for you than to learn that you were passionately despised. Hate, at least, shows depth of emotion.

The word “set” wins the award for having the most definitions in the English language. It clocks in with 464 according to the Oxford English Dictionary (the word “run” comes in a distant second with 396 definitions).  With that many different meanings under its belt you can imagine the various antonyms it must have associated with it. The opposite of set can be “indefinite” (as opposed to a set time), “remove” (verses to set something in place), “individual” (instead of a full set or assortment like a tea set), “soften” (the antithesis of harden like waiting for concrete to set), or “scatter” (instead of setting up or arranging as in bowling pins).  There are plenty more but this is enough to illustrate my point. So coming up with a proper antonym is not necessarily “easy-peasy.”

It was with this in mind that for some reason I invented a word association game (it could easily be turned into a drinking game for those of you who are over 21, who possess a fake ID or know where the key to the liquor cabinet is hidden). It can be played by two or more and you need nothing more than the time, people, place and desire to play the game (unless you’re playing the drinking version in which case someone will need to furnish the booze).  I haven’t really put the game into practic yet so if anyone has a go at it let me know what you think.  I call it Antonym Baseball and here are the rules:

Antonym Baseball (a word association game)

Rules of the Game:

1. A player is chosen to be the opening pitcher who will throw out (or ‘pitch’) a word to a designated “batter” who has to come up with (or ‘hit back’) the relative opposite within 5 seconds (simply counting to 5 works).

2. If the batter doesn’t come up with a hit in time or another player (know as a pinch hitter) has a hit before the batter does, the batter is charged with a strike against him/her. For example if the word ‘good’ is pitched, the batter might hit back with the word ‘bad.’  However if ‘angelic’ is pitched, the batter would have to hit back with something like ‘demonic’ or ‘devilish’ rather than ‘bad’ because ‘bad’ is not the relative opposite of ‘angelic.’  

3. The batter is not allowed to hit back with a form of the word that was pitched. For instance if ‘intelligent’ is pitched the batter cannot use the word ‘unintelligent.’ Instead the batter would have to hit back with a word like ‘ignorant.’  

4. The pitcher can only pitch words that have an opposite.  A word like ‘broccoli’ cannot be pitched since it does not have a clear antonym (although some might argue that chocolate is the antonym of broccoli).  

5. If a pitcher uses a word that a batter doesn’t think has a clear opposite, the batter can “catch” them on it by simply saying, “catch.”  A pitcher who has been “caught” then has 3 seconds (again a count of 3 is fine) to provide proof of an acceptable antonym by voicing one.  If they fail to come up with proof (an acceptable antonym), the pitcher is charged with a strike and the duty of pitching is given over to the player who caught them.  An umpire can be appointed for settling disputes. The decision of the umpire is final.

6. Similarly if a batter or pinch hitter uses a word that is not a proper relative opposite or violates any of the rules, the pitcher can catch them and the 3-seconds start for the batter to come up with an alternative and acceptable antonym. Again, any decision by the umpire is final if an ump is assigned and consulted.

7. A batter (or a pinch hitter) who successfully hits a pitch becomes the pitcher.  

8. If the batter (or a pinch hitter) fails to hit a pitch or successfully catch the pitcher then the pitcher gets to pitch again to the same batter again or has the option of choosing another batter. 

9. Once a player gets three strikes against them, they are ejected from the game.  

10. The game can be played with two or more people and is played until there is only one person left with less than three strikes.

So that is the word game I invented.  Clearly I have too much time on my hands. Let me know if you partake in it, if you find it vaguely entertaining and if you have suggestions that would improve it. Sometimes I think I am such a word-nerd.  Is there an opposite of that?

Question: What is the most inventive antonym you can think of (such as indifference as the antonym of love)?


6 comments on “Opposites Attract: The World of Antonyms

  1. Sounds fun need some time to think on this one though 🙂

    • The directions make it sound more complicated than I think it would be in practice. This is how I see it going:

      Player 1 (with opening pitch) to Player 2: Morose
      Player 2: Ebullient
      Player 2 (takes over as pitcher) to Player 3: Dishonest
      Player 3: Honest
      Player 2: “Catch!” You can’t use a form of the word pitched. You have 3 seconds. 1… 2…
      Player 3: Truthful!
      Player 3 (takes over as pitcher) to Player 1: Cantankerous
      Player 1: Pleasant
      Player 3: “Catch” I don’t think that is the relative opposite, you have 3 seconds. 1… 2… 3… You didn’t come up with an answer, that’s strike one for you!
      Player 1: What would be an appropriate response, can I get a ruling from the Ump?
      Player 2 (as Umpire): Something like Agreeable would be more appropriate.
      Player 3 retains the position of pitcher and the game continues…

  2. I like the sound of that game. It’s a great vocabulary building tool, too! Now let me see if I can trick my kids into playing it…
    And I agree with indifference being the antonym of love.

    • What is it about words that is so fascinating? Sound’s like game night might be happening soon at your house. Thanks for stopping by. Let me know if you play the game and how it works out!

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