Everyone knows that in English we often add a prefix to the beginning of a word to make it negative, right? A tidy room can become untidy, an honest person can be tempted to act dishonestly.
But do you know there are several words in the English language which only exist in negative form?
Let’s start with this example.
She showed her disdain for the dishevelled and disconsolate boy.
So how about she showed her dain for the shevelled and consolate boy? Nope, that’s incorrect.
Dain, shevelled and consolate simply do not exist in contemporary English vocabulary.
The English language has plenty of negative words without a positive counterpart – probably more than you would think. A few more examples : inertia, ineptitude, immacculate, impeccable, nonchalant, nonplussed, unkempt, uncouth.
We can, however, trace their usage back to the Latin and old French used in the Middle Ages. The etymology of disdain, for example, is rooted in the Latin dignari , meaning “worthy”. The dis was added to convey the opposite and the word disdain came to mean a feeling of aversion and contempt. Dishevelled comes from the amalgamation of dis and the French word for hair – chevel – and later extended its meaning to clothing. The Latin verb consolari – to comfort – provided the linguistic basis for the word disconsolate.
I could write a story here about a macculate and peccable guy who tried to radiate a sense of ertia and eptitude by being chalant and plussed despite the fact that he was neither kempt nor couth.
But sadly, all these antonyms either never existed or are no longer in use in my language.
2 replies on “Words with no opposite”
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The root of disconsolate is the only one I got, from console, which is still fairly close. Cheval as a root of disheveled I’d never have gotten–it’s more of a leap than my mind’s ready for so soon after lunh–but some version of dignari, yeah, I can’t help thinking I should’ve guessed that one. This would make a great game during lock-down.
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