Printable Version
Pronunciation: æn-tê-nim Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A word having the exact opposite meaning of another word, as black is the antonym of white or low is the antonym of high.

Notes: Yin and yang: the universal antonymsIf you listen closely to how people speak, you will discover that a common speech error is the substitution of a word for its antonym, "It's too cold in here?I mean, hot." This suggests to linguists that one way we retrieve words from our mental vocabulary is to look for semantic relations, and that antonymy (the noun for today's good word) is one of the relationships by which our brains organize words. Relatives? Again, we have a choice of adjectives: antonymic or antonymous.

In Play: Antonyms should not be confused with contraries. Healthy and unhealthy are mere contraries because unhealthy does not imply the opposite: sick. Unreliable sources suggest that the name Microsoft Works is an oxymoron because it contains antonyms. (No comment from here.)

Word History: This good word is made up of Greek anti- "against, opposite" + our old friend, onyma "name". The prefix anti- is related to the Latin ante "before, in front of", since "opposite" can imply "in front of" (His house is opposite mine). If you ante up in poker, you put money in the pot up front, ahead of actual play. The same root that gave Greek and Latin their anti gave Old English ande, which today is the noun end and the negative prefix un-. "What about along?" you wonder. Indeed, it originated as Old English andlang from and "facing" and lang "long". You never know what will fall off the English family tree.

Dr. Goodword,

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