Wake Up in Hellish War
Posted by Neal on December 16, 2005
Last weeek Doug and Adam were practicing singing “Silent Night” for their Sunday school Christmas program. This was actually quite an accomplishment for Adam, since slow, solemn songs often make him break out in sobs. With some work, though, he got so he could listen to it, sing it, and even peck it out on the piano. Now he and Doug were having some fun with it. Adam sang,
“Hey, yeah!” said Doug. “It’s opposite day! Hey, Dad! What’s the opposite of holy?” I thought about telling him profane, but decided to go with plain old unholy. Doug continued with
I got to thinking about a seminar in lexical semantics I’d once taken, where I learned that the concept of opposite isn’t as straightforward as it seems. The most general definitions have opposites as pairs of words that are very similar semantically but which differ on at least one dimension. Silent and noisy would be gradable opposites: things can be silent, noisy, or neither, but not both. Night and day: This is a pair of relational opposites, since something can be day, night, or neither, but not both, AND we’re not talking about points on some dimension. I’m assuming holy and unholy would be another pair of gradable opposites, given the wide variety of things in the world that are neither holy nor unholy.
Meanwhile, Doug and Adam were moving on:
Nothing is wild, nothing is dark.
Interesting, I thought. They’re looking for opposites of nouns, adjectives, and even quantifiers now, but is makes it through unchanged. But if you’re gonna change the all along with the calm, then you really need to get the is, too: Saying “Nothing is wild” means the same thing as “All is calm.” Yeah, what they should really do is–
“Dad, what’s the opposite of virgin?”
“Oh! Uh, is there a word for that? I guess … non-virgin.”
That would be a complementary opposite: To the best of my knowledge, either you’re a virgin or you’re not. Luckily, Doug and Adam just wanted to finish the song, and didn’t ask for details.
This entry was posted on December 16, 2005 at 11:54 pm and is filed under Christmas-related, Lexical semantics, The darndest things. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.