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The Opposite of Lonely
May 2, 2008 12:24 PM   Subscribe

What other words out there lack elegant opposites?

I had a long discussion with some friends trying to get someone to give me an elegant solution to finding a word that encapsulated the meaning of "the opposite of lonely". Ultimately, we failed to find one that truly captured all elements of what that concept implied. This fascinates me.

What other words lack opposites? I do not mean which words only work in one direction (e.g. "unruly"" "unkempt"" and "uncouth" only work in the negative, but antonyms exist, like unruly/disciplined, unkempt/tidy, etc.). Rather I mean words whose opposite concept cannot be boiled down to one word.
posted by rooftop secrets to Writing & Language (47 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Sidenote: if someone can come up with a word meaning the 'opposite of lonely', please do share.
posted by rooftop secrets at 12:29 PM on May 2, 2008

Might want to narrow that down to "opposites of adjectives / adverbs." The smartass in me wants to say "what's the opposite of orange?"

And fascinating question. Subscribed.
posted by ZakDaddy at 12:34 PM on May 2, 2008

opposite of feeling lonely: loved
opposite of a lonely person: congenial
posted by bigmusic at 12:41 PM on May 2, 2008

I'd posit that you can both feel loved and lonely at the same time so they are hardly opposites.
posted by zeoslap at 12:47 PM on May 2, 2008

Holy crap, the first thing I thought of when I ready this question was "orange". huh.

As for lonely, "surrounded". OK, it's not elegant.
posted by GuyZero at 12:48 PM on May 2, 2008

On a color wheel the opposite of orange is blue.

Lonely people are blue, therefore the opposite of lonely is orange.
posted by crazylegs at 12:52 PM on May 2, 2008 [43 favorites]

what is the elegant opposite of deluded?
posted by francesca too at 12:53 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

The first word that came to mind was "together." But I decided that "crowded" might work better. Not sure if it elegantly encapsulates in the way you're thinking.
posted by PY at 12:55 PM on May 2, 2008

The smartass in me wants to note that orange is an adjective. Possibly also things like "salty," although that may just be the gustatory equivalent to orange.

Perhaps the way to refine the question is to specify qualities that conceptually have a clear opposite (it seems fairly clear to me what the opposite of lonely is like), but there's no word to describe that concept.

On preview: Merriam-Webster lists undeluded as a legitimate word.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:56 PM on May 2, 2008

Crazylegs, that was flat out brilliant.
posted by 8dot3 at 12:57 PM on May 2, 2008

I'm surrounded, and crowded, yet I'm still lonely.

Is "companionated" a word?
posted by Koko at 12:58 PM on May 2, 2008

You can also make the argument that the only real opposite to something is the state of not being something.
posted by electroboy at 1:00 PM on May 2, 2008

The problem I have with the word lonely (and finding its opposite), is that not only does it describe a physical state (alone, in theory, although people can definitely be lonely in a crowded room), it refers to this idea you want to be close to/loved by people but aren't. So the opposite in my mind is you are close to/loved by people but don't want to be.

I don't know of a word for that.
posted by rooftop secrets at 1:00 PM on May 2, 2008

For a more general discussion of the nature of antonyms, this paper might be of interest. It tackles the following questions:

1. What makes two words antonyms? What exactly are the semantic dimensions which antonyms are said to share?

2. Why do some words have antonyms while others have none? Why do some words have more than one antonym, e.g., good/bad and good/evil or happy/sad and happy/unhappy?

3. What accounts for native speakers' strong intuitions about which words are antonyms (the "clang phenomenon")? What is the difference between pairs of words which are good, prototypical examples of antonyms, such as hot and cold, wet and dry, and pairs which are seem to contrast in meaning but which many people would not consider antonyms, e.g., hot and chilly or loud and faint? Is there a model of antonymy that can explain why some pairs are "good" antonyms and some are not?

posted by brain_drain at 1:02 PM on May 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

As far as I know, 'trilateral' has no elegant opposite.
posted by crazylegs at 1:03 PM on May 2, 2008

the opposite of lonely

How about "content"?
posted by Skot at 1:04 PM on May 2, 2008

The wiki article on opposites is interesting: "Typically, they (opposites) differ in only one dimension of meaning, but are similar in most other respects..." For a long time I never really understood what people meant when they said they were lonely, because I always wondered "as opposed to what?" To me the "opposites" of lonely would include "self-sufficient", "content", and "well-adjusted."
posted by thomas144 at 1:07 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Poking around some online dictionaries and thesauruses have given me a bit of insight.

"Lonely" means, more or less "sad due to being alone." It's actually a combination of two different concepts: "sad" and "alone" (plus the fact that the former is due to the latter, not merely the co-occurrence of the two). English has an opposite for sad ("happy") and for alone (one thesaurus gives "accompanied," which seems reasonable).

There's two possible ways to construct an opposite of "lonely." One would be a word meaning "not lonely," but that would have to mean "happy and/or accompanied," and there's no particular reason why English ought to have a word for that.

The other reasonable way of constructing an opposite of "lonely" would be to require the negation of both aspects: a word meaning "happy due to being accompanied." This is more specific than merely "not lonely," of course, but that's OK. The suggestions so far seem to focus more on the "accompanied" aspect but miss out on the "happy" aspect. (On preview: "content" captures "happy" but not "accompanied.")
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:13 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by malp at 1:17 PM on May 2, 2008

Lonely can be used in a few senses, so a single opposite is tricky, but I suggest "gregarious." I think this "multiple senses" problem may be found in many words that don't have a tidy antonym. Same with "blue," as crazylegs cleverly demonstrated.

"trilateral" is an interesting case because it clearly has a singular sense, but A) incorporates a category with many options (number: tri) and also incorporates a geometric shape, and there are many possible shapes. So that's a double-whammy non-opposable word.
posted by adamrice at 1:19 PM on May 2, 2008

This is a great question.

Here's one- disillusioned. It implies not only the state that you're in but the process you went through to get there- because to be disillusioned you had to, at one point, have illusions, and then you had to be disabused of them. Is there a word for the opposite of that? I've heard "starry-eyed" suggested but that's only the end result. Is there a word that means that you were once cynical but aren't anymore?
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 1:20 PM on May 2, 2008

Rather I mean words whose opposite concept cannot be boiled down to one word.

A parent whose children are still alive.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:26 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

[Fun question doesn't mean Hey, Go Crazy. Try to stick with answers, folks.]
posted by cortex at 2:06 PM on May 2, 2008

Possible opposites of 'lonely': connected, or united.

Not as in "She has a lot of connections" but as in "I feel very connected with/to person(s)."
posted by inconsequentialist at 2:12 PM on May 2, 2008

posted by popcassady at 2:19 PM on May 2, 2008

sorry, on a more relevant note, perhaps this and this will be of interest.
posted by dawson at 2:21 PM on May 2, 2008

posted by prefpara at 3:09 PM on May 2, 2008

Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret." Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic traincar constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." I'd like to show how "intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members" connects with "the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age." I'd like to have a word for "the sadness inspired by failing restaurants" as well as for "the excitement of getting a room with a minibar." Jeffrey Eugenides
posted by xod at 3:14 PM on May 2, 2008

Something close to the opposite for disillusioned could be 'born-again'. Think of the song Amazing Grace, with its line "was blind but now I see", seems to be the opposite?
posted by Lemurrhea at 3:21 PM on May 2, 2008

Because we choose the extremes as opposites, things in the middle tend not to have opposites. Grey, mediocre, etc.
Things that are unique or specific tend not to have opposites: eyeball, philtrum, quail, sphygmomanometer, snooker.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:24 PM on May 2, 2008

I love malp's answer. "Smothered" is the closest I've heard to what my conception of the opposite of lonely is.
posted by rooftop secrets at 3:24 PM on May 2, 2008

while I mostly agree with you weapons-grade, I would venture to say the opposite of 'mediocre' is 'exceptional'.
posted by rooftop secrets at 3:27 PM on May 2, 2008

I have been simultaneously lonely and smothered -- I was being smothered by someone whom I neither trusted nor felt close to.

I would think that "mediocre" has at least one or two opposites... brilliant? Extraordinary? Unusual? Unique?
posted by prefpara at 3:29 PM on May 2, 2008

A parent whose children are still alive.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:26 PM on May 2 [+] [!]

I'm not aware of a word that means either that or its opposite (a parent whose children are not alive.) On the other hand, I don't think there is an opposite for orphan (a child whose parents are not alive).
posted by arcticwoman at 3:58 PM on May 2, 2008

Because we choose the extremes as opposites, things in the middle tend not to have opposites. Grey, mediocre, etc.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:24 PM on May 2 [+] [!]

I would venture to say the opposite of 'mediocre' is 'exceptional'.
posted by rooftop secrets at 4:27 PM on May 2 [+] [!]

I would agree with rooftop secrets, and I think that things in the middle can absolutely have opposites, as long as the opposite can encompass either end of the continuum. For instance, something can be either exceptionally good or exceptionally bad, which is why exceptional makes a good antonym for mediocre. The opposite of grey could be colourful, maybe. Or intense.
posted by arcticwoman at 4:01 PM on May 2, 2008

Oxford English Dictionary:

unlonely: Not lonely.

1952 J. STEINBECK East of Eden 396 The poison of loneliness and the gnawing envy of the unlonely. 1967 H. W. SUTHERLAND Magnie iv. 63 A man should sleep with his wife in winter. It's warm - unlonely. 1971 P. SCOTT Towers of Silence III. iv. 197, I am not unlonely.
posted by Flunkie at 4:01 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

My college friends and I used to try and come up with words for concepts that seemed like they didn't have a good single word definition. My favorite was "smallow," for "the opposite of dense." There are lots of ways to describe something with low density, but "light" doesn't always cut it.
posted by rikschell at 6:19 PM on May 2, 2008

Isn't sparse the opposite of dense?
posted by speicus at 8:04 PM on May 2, 2008

For an antonym of lonely, I might go with something like "replete."
posted by speicus at 8:07 PM on May 2, 2008

posted by brandz at 9:03 PM on May 2, 2008

"Lonely" means, more or less "sad due to being alone."

How about "happy due to being alone" as an opposite? I don't know any good adjectives for that, just nouns like "loner" or "hermit".
posted by smackfu at 11:11 PM on May 2, 2008

When I think of lonely, I think "lack of meaningful engagement with others, to an unhealthy or displeasing degree." I can't think of a single word off the top of my head, but here are some phrases I might use to convey the meaning vividly.


followed by "with friendship/companionship/togetherness." It's interesting that many of my comparisons are gastronomic. I think it's because in both cases, either extreme is unhealthy.
posted by kurtiss at 11:58 PM on May 2, 2008

How about "envy" this is a lexical gap that has always amused me.

German has a verb for this "goenen" which is used quite liberaly in advertising, and the only way to translate it is with "don't begrudge".

But : Goene dich ein Kaffee means so much more than Don't begrudge yourself a coffee.
posted by munchbunch at 6:54 AM on May 3, 2008

how about 'satisified' for the opposite of lonely?
posted by elle.jeezy at 7:34 AM on May 3, 2008

"Goene dich ein Kaffee" can be translated "treat yourself to a coffee."
posted by thomas144 at 7:49 AM on May 3, 2008

For a word that means "the opposite of lonely", my first thought was either gem├╝tlich or hyggelig.
posted by Stove at 8:29 AM on May 3, 2008

So, back to orange. It can be used as an adjective, but it's also a noun (the color or the fruit.)


"lonely" to me has negative connotations, and it seems like the most important aspect of an opposite in this case is its emotional heft - if the opposite of "mediocre" (negative, poorly thought of) is "exceptional" or "brilliant" (positive, to be admired or respected)

So to choose an opposite of "lonely," I would steer clear of other negatives even if they swing the pendulum too far to the other extreme such as "smothered" or "stuffed."

And that pesky OED, always handy with a made-up copout. "Unlonely" indeed. We might as well have "unmediocre." :)

FWIW, Apple's embedded thesaurus suggests the following:

1 I felt very lonely isolated, alone, lonesome, friendless, with no one to turn to, forsaken, abandoned, rejected, unloved, unwanted, outcast; gloomy, sad, depressed, desolate, forlorn, cheerless, down, blue. antonym popular.
2 the lonely life of a writer solitary, unaccompanied, lone, by oneself/itself, companionless. antonym sociable.
3 a lonely road deserted, uninhabited, unfrequented, unpopulated, desolate, isolated, remote, out of the way, secluded, off the beaten track/path, in the back of beyond, godforsaken; informal in the middle of nowhere. antonym populous, crowded.

(This is wholesale copy-paste, but I didn't see a copyright notice so heck with them. Apple credits the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, so there's your attribute)
posted by ZakDaddy at 9:08 PM on May 7, 2008

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