Words coined to be opposites of existing words
May 12, 2021 2:45 PM   Subscribe

What are some words that were coined to provide antonyms to words that didn't previously have antonyms? Some examples of what I am looking for are stabile, prepone, cis, and allistic.
posted by aws17576 to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by darchildre at 2:51 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

It's non-standard, but 'diswant'
posted by smokysunday at 2:57 PM on May 12

posted by Daily Alice at 2:59 PM on May 12

offline, as in 'let's meet offline' was coined (with this meaning) after 'online' was established. It's a type of retronym; this list might lead to other examples of what you're after.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:05 PM on May 12 [10 favorites]

Many backformations that start with in-, dis-, un- and the like could fit the bill too. Like the choate example above.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:06 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

meatspace, as an opposite of cyberspace
posted by brainmouse at 3:29 PM on May 12 [7 favorites]

posted by arrmatie at 3:52 PM on May 12

(Cis and trans were both commonly used in chemistry long before they were applied to gender.)
posted by heatherlogan at 4:17 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]

Cis and trans were both commonly used in chemistry long before they were applied to gender.

And in geography before that.
posted by praemunire at 4:55 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]

(Cis and trans were both commonly used in chemistry long before they were applied to gender.)

See also transalpine and cisalpine Gaul. Which is to say that the question perhaps needs a bit of clarification. Should 'cisgender' count as it comes into use after 'transgender'? Or should it not count because the opposite of 'transgender' is "naturally" 'cisgender', which would also remove the homo-/hetero- pairs and so on from the running?
posted by hoyland at 4:59 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]

My friend Jeremy coined a word in high school, "smallow," which means the opposite of dense. Think about it--there's no word for it and it's a very useful concept. There are words like light or fluffy that are a specific kind of not-dense, but I always thought it was a perfect word and am sad that no one but me (and maybe Jeremy) remembers it.
posted by rikschell at 5:45 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]

posted by dfan at 6:48 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]

I’m reminded of Wilkins and Wontkins, the characters Jim Henson created for a hilariously violent series of commercials for Wilkins Coffee. Wilkins will try Wilkins coffee, but Wontkins won’t.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:49 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

posted by southern_sky at 7:08 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]

Proactive was coined to mean the opposite of reactive when active was already sitting right there.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 7:39 PM on May 12 [3 favorites]

posted by Rhaomi at 12:09 AM on May 13

I've seen "gruntled" used whimsically as the opposite of "disgruntled".

You'd think that this would one of those natural reversal cases as well, but it turns out that the "dis-" prefix can mean "exceedingly, utterly" rather than "not", and this is its sense within "disgruntled". Which would make "gruntled" a milder form of the same state, not its opposite.

And then there's "literally", a recently coined word that means "not literally".
posted by flabdablet at 12:11 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]

meatspace, as an opposite of cyberspace

Similarly, wetware.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:08 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]

When biologists started doing things in vitro, they acquired the need to talk about doing things in vivo.
posted by heatherlogan at 9:10 AM on May 13

Exfiltrate was first used in 1947, to describe the process of sneaking a person out of hostile territory. That's not exactly an antonym of infiltrate, but close.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:31 PM on May 13

underwhelm. The root whelm is an obsolete word meaning to cover or submerge. The original literal meaning of overwhelm is essentially just intensification by semantic reduplication. Over time it more or less replaced the simpler whelm, and largely lost its literal meaning in favor of a more figurative usage, of to physically or emotionally overpower. This I suppose freed up the "over-" prefix to become contrasted, hence the neologism underwhelm meaning to fail to overwhelm, apparently dating to the 1950s, could get purchase despite not really making much sense as an antonym in the original literal meaning of the word.

Though if one were so inclined, I suppose one could suggest that when a spy goes undercover, she underwhelms.
posted by biogeo at 10:01 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]

Oh, dangit, I missed that dfan already got that one. Sorry.
posted by biogeo at 10:03 PM on May 13


There is a somewhat similar phenomenon of new things making it necessary to make distinctions not previously needed as acoustic guitar.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:46 AM on May 14

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