Uppers and Downers

A conversation about words


Since writing my column on antosyns—antonyms that can be used as synonyms—I have seen cash in used synonymously with cash out, and references to kicking the can up or down the road. I’ve also read about “a great return on investments based off of prior results.” Shouldn’t that be based on prior results? Not to some writers, including the journalist who reported that Donald Trump’s net worth was “based off of things like golf courses.” Apparently some sort of verbal shift is going on. Or is it going off? As one Scholar reader pointed out, that’s what alarms do: go on or go off.

The most popular antosyns submitted for the current contest were variations on up and down. “A trying experience can leave you beaten up and beaten down,” noted one reader. Other submissions included wind up/down (a meeting), mark up/down (legislation), break down/up (in laughter), burn up/down (a building), being down/up (for something), and slow up/down (while driving). My favorite entry was illustrated with the sentences “Come on down to our house” and “Come on up to our house.” These sentences could refer, respectively, to homes built in valleys and on hills, but they don’t have to. The spotter of that antosyn wins a tote bag, as do readers who submitted give/take (caretaker, caregiver) and slim/fat (fat chance, slim chance).

Honorable mentions go to out/in (“From here on out/in I’m only eating spinach”) and bad/good (“She’s bad,” meaning “She’s good”) and to the reader who pointed out that flammable and inflammable, sometimes mistaken for antonyms, are in fact interchangeable.

{ App’ed Words }

Can it be less than a decade since Steve Jobs displayed in the palm of his hand a thin, rectangular device that he called an iPhone? It was a “leapfrog product,” Jobs said, one “way smarter than any mobile device has ever been, and super-easy to use.” Since then the ubiquity of this leapfrog product and others like it has transformed our culture so quickly that we haven’t had time to create an associated vocabulary. If we had, surely we could have done better than “text” (as a verb) and “app,” to say nothing of “2G,” “3G,” and “4G.”

Smartphone-related phenomena cry out for better naming. We can help. In our next contest, create words for any of the following:

  • glancing furtively at a smartphone while conversing with another person;
  • the stiff neck that results from continually looking down at a smartphone screen;
  • the anxiety felt when one’s phone battery is running low with no charging source in sight; and
  • the pop-up community of smartphoners who congregate around power outlets in airport terminals.

The best neologism in each case will win the neologizer a Scholar tote bag.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Ralph Keyes is the author, most recently, of The Hidden History of Coined Words, which has just been published.


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