What’s In A Word: Hope

I look into words or phrases that catch my interest

Hope2Hope, like the gleaming taper’s light,
Adorns and cheers our way;
And still, as darker grows the night,
Emits a brighter ray.
Oliver Goldsmith, The Captivity

Hope is a desire of something together with the expectation of obtaining it. Despair is the opposite of hope.

Hope flows from the human desire to control an uncertain future. Hope gives us the courage and confidence to take action, no matter what the odds against us. Without hope, we would never take risks, never believe we can change our fate.

“Everything that is done in the world is done by hope,” says Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

But sometimes hope can be counterproductive, even harmful, as you’ll soon see.

Hope Comes In Many Forms

High-flying Hope
“Hope — Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us… A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.”
President Barack Obama

Modest Hope
”I hope I’m not late to work Monday morning.”
The noble word hope is grossly overused and cheapened.

Low-flying Hope
“I hope they serve beer in Hell!”
People pervert and cheapen the word love, too.

Worried Hope
“I hope that gun’s not loaded.”
Please comment with your favorite examples of Worried Hope.

Superstitious Hope
When we use hope as a charm or spell for a positive outcome, regardless of possibility or probability. “I hope I win the Lotto! It’s my birthday.”

Reasonable Hope
“Hope is the belief that something is possible and probable, and the recognition that the degree of each is not necessarily equal. Hope supports realistic optimism, a necessary component of success. Optimists are powerful for solving wicked problems, the ones pessimists say can’t be solved.”
Deborah Mills-Scofield, Hope Is a Strategy (Well, Sort Of)

Fraudulent Hope
“Hope calculates its schemes for a long and durable life; presses forward to imaginary points of bliss; grasps at impossibilities; and consequently very often ensnares men into beggary, ruin, and dishonour.”
Joseph Addison, The Spectator, Nov. 13, 1712

Blind Hope
”Blind hope faces a blank wall waiting for a door in it to open. Doors might be nearby, but blind hope keeps you from locating them.”
Rebecca Solnit


Hopelessness or Hope

two-and-a-half years of meth addiction

two-and-a-half years of meth addiction

year and a half of meth addiction

year and a half of meth addiction

three months of meth addiction

three months of meth addiction

Look at these faces ravaged by addiction, the dead eyes.

We can see what’s happening to these addicts, but they can’t — they’re in denial.

Though it’s obvious to everyone else, an addict will stubbornly insist they do not have a problem, or their problems are someone else’s fault.

Denial traps addicts and alcoholics in a spiral of self-destruction. Denial makes them unreachable by any helpers.

Are the people in these mug shots hopeless cases?

When we believe change is impossible, that there are no options, that’s hopelessness.

I’ve known people who, because of alcoholism, were at one time in far worse shape than these meth addicts, people who had sunk about as low as they could possibly go. Families, friends, employers, the authorities — all gave up on them. He’s a hopeless case if ever there was one!

Yet today, these same people are sober, productive members of society, and they help make the world a better place. To look at them, you would never guess their history, the things they’ve done to themselves and to others.

Something happened; somehow they got off the merry-go-round of denial and admitted they had a problem.

At a fork in the road, they chose life over death, hope over despair. You could call it a miracle. “God did a drive-by on me,” a recovering alcoholic explains.

The people I mention, the success stories, they’re not cured. They struggle on a daily basis; alcoholism and drug addiction are a mandatory life sentence. But they have hope, awaken each morning with a desire to get through the day sober and the confidant expectation that — if they take action, take the necessary steps — they will go to bed sober that night.

There are no hopeless cases.

Call me a hopeless optimist, but I can imagine the above booking photos transposed, the before and after photos reversed, and “meth addiction” replaced with “sobriety.”

There is always hope. It’s never too late, no matter how low you go, no matter how many relapses. [With the caveat that you have to be alive and not have screwed up your brain too badly].

And hope, unlike dope & booze, is free.

The mug shots are from Faces of Meth, an anti-drug campaign in Oregon. The people in the mug shots agreed to participate in the campaign, in the hope their story and photos persuade others not to use methamphetamine (see? they are not hopeless cases!). Get more info in my comment to this post.




Most of us are familiar with the story of Pandora’s box. In Greek mythology, the gods give Pandora, the first woman, a gift — a beautifully ornate box.

“The gift is the box, not what’s inside it,” the gods tell Pandora. “Do not – repeat, DO NOT — open this box!”

Curiosity eats at Pandora, and, unable to resist, she lifts the lid. Out flies all the ills of society– hate, pain, poverty, violence, plagues, telemarketers, debt collectors, DMV clerks – everything that makes our lives miserable.

Pandora’s desire for the forbidden, much like Eve’s temptation in the Garden the Eden, leads her to defy the gods, with terrible consequences.

That, say the ancient Greeks, is how evil and trouble came into the world.

But that’s not the whole story, there’s more to the myth. As the evil spirits fly out, a terrified Pandora slams the lid shut, and traps the one remaining spirit in the box: Hope.

Why was Hope in the box with all those evil spirits? How did Hope finally get out of the box and into people’s hearts?

I’m going to tell you the full story of Pandora’s Box, my version of the myth anyway. I call it Hope-In-A-Box. I’m writing it now. Actually, I’ve been writing it for weeks; slow going, but I’m about half way finished.

I hope to post Hope-In-A-Box early in 2013. So bookmark this page. The link to my story of hope, evil, and crazy gods will be right here.



Giant Potato On the Move in L.A.

Screenshot via Idaho Potato Commission

(From LAist.com)
It’s not the largest item to get hauled around the streets of Los Angeles, but that massive 6-ton, 28-foot-long potato that was hanging out in Pasadena earlier this week (next to a giant fork, of course) will be on the move again today in L.A. as it makes its way to the Original Farmers’ Market for a weekend of fall fun.

Created for the Idaho Potato Commission, the giant potato is due to hit the road in Huntington Beach at 2 p.m. today, according to City News Service. The potato is being transported via a customized truck, but, unlike last Friday’s haul of the space shuttle Endeavour, will not require closed roads or trees to come down.

The potato’s scheduled route is the 405 Freeway north to the 10 Freeway to Fairfax. The spud is due to arrive at around 3 p.m. at the Farmers’ Market at Third and Fairfax, where it will stay put for the weekend for the venue’s 78th Annual Fall Festival.

via The Giant Potato Will Be On the Move Today in L.A.: LAist.

LA hauls in new monuments

First, this spring, the LA County Museum of Art hauls a massive, 340-ton boulder from the desert near Riverside to LACMA’s new art installation, called Levitating Mass.

The museum is next door to the famous La Brea Tar Pits (one of my favorite LA attractions), and not far from Beverly Hills.

Over the course of 12 nights, the granite rock, slung from a giant transporter, moved at 8 mph along a winding 105-mile route to LA.

I joined the crowds gawking at the rock when it stopped for the day near my home. I wondered, “What’s the attraction? It’s just a big rock.” Wrapped in protective plastic, you could only see its shape.

But I was overwhelmed by the sheer logistics of moving such a massive object.

It reminded me of the ancient Egyptians building the pyramids.

The teardrop-shaped, two-stories-high rock is so heavy and bulky it took a specially built flatbed trailer the length of a football field to transport. 

Was I like the Egyptian peasants, thinking that the rich & powerful were mad, that all the resources spent hauling massive stones around could be put to much better use making life better for the suffering underclass?

But I guess man does not live by bread alone, and the poor will always be among us. Art lifts our spirits and feeds a deeper hunger, or so I’m told.

Then last week the nearly 300,000-lbs. space shuttle Endeavor creeps along the boulevards of south LA — where “the snakes hang low,” life is difficult and most people live in poverty — in a three-day trip from LAX to the California Science Center in downtown LA. (see following post).

Now we have a 6-ton potato moving 30 or 40 miles — this time along LA freeways and not side streets — to the Original Farmers Market, smack dab in the center of Los Angeles, close to the museum where the gargantuan rock guards the entrance to the art museum and the fake wooly mammoths flounder in the bubbling tar pits.

I have to say that the Farmers Market is my all time favorite LA attraction. A Sunday afternoon spent at the Farmers Market is about as good as life gets. If you were to ask me, what terrorist attack in LA would most piss you off? my first thought would be the Farmers Market.

A giant potato, with huge slabs of butter and dozens of gallons of sour cream & chives …  the incredible food stalls at the Farmers Market, just thinking of the scrumptious smells makes my mouth water … now that satisfies hunger! You can’t eat a giant rock or a space shuttle.

How are they going to bake that giant potato?

Click for LA Times story on the Original Farmers Market

See my Oct. 13 post ENDEAVOR’S LA JOURNEY

Endeavour’s L.A. journey

One of the greatest spectacles in the history of Los Angeles is underway!
The parade of the space shuttle Endeavor through the city is as magnificent and awe-inspiring as the grand triumphs of the Caesars in Ancient Rome. Crowds of people cheer Endeavor as the shuttle, still bearing the scars from its travels through outer space, crawls through neighborhoods and business districts, dwarfing everything in its path. “Not a once-in-a-lifetime event, a ONCE event!”


LOS ANGELES — At every turn of Endeavour’s stop-and-go commute through urban streets, a constellation of spectators trailed along as the space shuttle ploddingly nosed past stores, schools, churches and front yards.

LA Times photo

Having escaped out of Earth’s atmosphere two dozen times, Endeavour’s slow-speed trek Saturday to its retirement center took it through the working class streets of southern Los Angeles.

In an instant, the shuttle crossings became part of history.

Along the 12-mile course, people marveled at the engineering. Some rooted for Endeavour when it appeared it might clip a light post. Others wondered if it could just hurry up to its destination, the Science Center museum in downtown LA.

Great photos at (2) Endeavour’s two-day L.A. journey.

Endeavor crosses the 405 Frwy at Manchester, towed by a pick-up truck (Toyota flimed a commercial of its Tundra pick-up truck hauling the 300,000 lbs. shuttle across the freeway overpass). Over the shuttle’s left wing is the famous giant doughnut atop Randy’s Donuts! LA Times photo

Yumm! Donuts! You have to be a true Angeleno to appreciate this photo: to remember seeing the giant donut as a kid and to have logged way too many hours on the 405, a perpetually traffic-clogged freeway. This is so LA!

Space Shuttle Endeavour: LA’s Newest Resident

Space shuttle Endeavour: Final mission – Framework – Photos and Video – Visual Storytelling from the Los Angeles Times.

Super exciting day in Southern California! Space shuttle Endeavor has arrived!

I live too far to the east to catch a glimpse as Endeavor, mounted piggy-back on a 747,  flew a serpentine route above LA landmarks. The 747 carrying the shuttle flew very low, sometimes as low as 300 feet!

Local TV news stations had spectacular video of Endeavor’s homecoming.

News story from the San Bernardino Sun

Space shuttle Endeavour crosscrossed the state in a final curtain call today before cheering crowds greeted its landing at Los Angeles International Airport.

Hitching a ride on top of a modified Boeing 747, the shuttle departed Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert this morning, circling the high desert that gave birth to the shuttle fleet before heading to Northern California.

The flyover took Endeavour over the state Capitol as well as Golden Gate Bridge,

Endeavor flies low over  Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay. Photo by Chris Sheesley

Then it returned to Southern California, where crowds had gathered on clifftops, in skyscrapers, at the ports, along the beach and out on streets to get a glimpse of the youngest orbiter in the shuttle fleet as it rode piggyback on the 747.

But before it’s stunning landing about 1 p.m., the shuttle made appearances at several local landmarks, including the Hollywood Sign, the Griffith Observatory, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Queen Mary and Disneyland.

“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” Endeavor passes over Warner Bros and Disney studios in Burbank. Photo: Dustin Wissmiller

On Oct. 12 and 13, Endeavour will make a 12-mile trek from LAX through Westchester, Inglewood and South Los Angeles before ending up at the California Science Center in Exposition Park.

The center is one of four institutions selected by NASA to receive a retired space shuttle orbiter for permanent display.

Though planners have spent more than a year organizing the move, there is still much to do.

“There’s no existing playbook for moving a spaceship through a city,” said Marty Fabrick, project director for the mission to bring the shuttle to Los Angeles.

“There weren’t a lot of options because of the size of the orbiter. … We considered air-lifting it or using freeways but we quickly determined those weren’t feasible options.

“We did find a route without destroying buildings. But we’re moving utility poles and trees. … I’m very excited to see it on the ground after a year and a half of planning.”

Manufactured by Rockwell International in Palmdale, the Endeavour is the fifth and final NASA shuttle to be built. It replaced the Challenger, which exploded after a 1986 launch, killing all of the astronauts on board.

The Endeavour has a 78-foot wingspan, stands 57 feet tall on the runway and measures 122 feet in length. It has made 25 space missions, and after a final launch in May 2011 had logged 122,883,151 miles.

It’s also known for several firsts, including carrying the first married couple and black female into space, along with the first Japanese national to fly on a U.S. spaceship. It also made the first servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.

On Oct. 30, the Science Center will put the Endeavour on display in a pavilion until a new addition called the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center is built.

See my Oct. 13 post ENDEAVOR’S LA JOURNEY

Homonyms, Homophones, and Other Confusingly Similar Words


Homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words trick unwary writers into hilarious bloopers, embarrassing errors, and the outright idiocy you see in print and on the Web.

How about this question on Yahoo! Answers:
Does allowing a dog to catch rats, squirrels, golfers and other vermin and eating them pose an unreasonable risk?

Or newspaper headlines that trip over homonyms …
Escaped Leopard Believed Spotted
Models May Underestimate Climate Swings
Helicopter Powered By Human Flies
Woman Kicked By Horse Upgraded To Stable
Police Find Crack In Man’s Buttocks

Homonyms are two or more words that share the same spelling, or the same pronunciation, or both, but have different meanings and origins.

Homonyms come in two basic flavors:

Homophones are words that share the same pronunciation but differ in meaning, such as right and write, flee and flea, see and sea.

Homographs share the same spelling but have different meanings. An example is bear, meaning to hold, and bear, the big, furry mammal: Steve couldn’t bear to see the bear chained to a tree.

We also have heteronyms, words that share the same spelling but have different pronunciations. Heteronyms are homographs that are not homophones: Steve, you can either go bass fishing or play your bass guitar, which is it?

Click to enlarge

A really cool graph by Will Heltsley shows at a glance how words related by pronunciation, spelling, or meaning are categorized: Homograph Homophone Venn Diagram.

And then there’s just plain confusingly similar words, such as conscious and conscience, lightening and lightning, and of course, penal and penile.
Steve said it was “penile-related crime” that landed him in a penal institution.

Some (homophone: sum) of my favorite homonyms, homophones and confusingly similar words:

abdominal  having to do with your belly abdominal pains
abominable  detestable; loathsome an abominable crime

Doesn’t look particularly abominable, but he’s definitely not an abdominal snowman

baloney  foolish or exaggerated talk
bologna  the lunch meat
Steve says it’s baloney that all he eats is bologna sandwiches

flour  powder made by grinding cereal grains
flower  the pretty part of a plant that houses reproductive structures

poor  indigent
pore  to gaze at intently
pore  small opening, as in the pores of your skin
pour  to cause to flow in a stream

That’s what the beaver said!

pussy  cat
pussy  vulgar, slang: female genitalia

Here’s a heteronym of the above two words:
  medical: containing or resembling  pus
Same spelling but different pronunciation — rhymes with fussy.

quiver  carrying case for arrows
quiver  shake or tremble

real  actual; genuine
reel  revolving device on which something flexible is wound

wound  past tense of wind – to coil about something; bend; turn; meander
wound  injury

Chinese takes the gold in homonyms

I love the hilarious mischief, awful puns, and silly wordplay the English language’s many homonyms, homophones & confusingly similar words make possible.

But if I really want to have fun with words, maybe I should learn Chinese.

The Chinese language has far more homonyms than English. Nearly every Chinese word has multiple homophones.

And with half-a-billion Chinese on the Internet texting and blogging, the Chinese have become world champs in puns and wordplay, both for amusement and to avoid censorship.

That’s what I learned in a fascinating article by Nina Porzucki posted on the world in words, a WordPress blog I enjoy from public radio reporter Patrick Cox. Here’s an excerpt …

How Technology is Changing Chinese, One Pun at a Time

When Sabrina Zhang and Jack Wang took their high school writing exam in China they remember a funny new rule written at the bottom of the test.

“You can’t use Internet words in the writing,” remembers Zhang. But, says Wang, “It’s just natural right when we use it. It’s the youth way of expressing ourselves.”

What might seem like the petty irritation of an old-fashioned professor might actually be something bigger.

The Internet has become a place for people to play with the Chinese language

There are now more than 500 million people online in China. They are microblogging, instant messaging, texting. The result is changing the Chinese language says David Moser, an American linguist living in Beijing.

According to Moser, the Internet has become a place for people to play with the Chinese language. Puns and wordplay have a long history in Chinese culture.

Chinese is the perfect language for punning because nearly every Chinese word has multiple homophones. Homophones are two words that sound similar but have different meanings like hare that rabbit-like creature and the hair on your head. In Chinese there are endless homophones.

Forbidden or taboo words in Chinese are taboo precisely because they sound like another word

“Because there are so many homophones there’s sort of a fetish about them,” says Moser. “As far as the culture goes back you have cases of homophone usage and homophone humor.” Many times forbidden or taboo words in Chinese are taboo precisely because they sound like another word.

4 = Death, 8 = Prosperity

A good example of this is the number four, which in Chinese sounds like the word for death and the number eight, which sounds like the word for prosperity. Moser has a Chinese aunt who used to work for the phone company and she could make money selling phone numbers. People would beg her for a phone number with a lot of eights. “People would actually give her gifts or bribes for an auspicious phone number,” says Moser.

The Internet is ripe with clever examples of how people evade the censors

Today, wordplay online has less to do with getting auspicious numbers and more to do with getting around censorship. Moser cites an example of a recent phrase he saw online mentioning the Tiananmen Square incident – only the netizen didn’t use the words “Tiananmen Square” or even 6/4, which refers to the date the incident took place. Tiananmen Square and 6/4 are both censored online. Instead the netizen referred to the “eight times eight incident.” Moser was confused when he first saw the reference. “And then I figured out, eight times eight is 64,” says Moser.

The Internet is ripe with clever examples of how people evade the censors. However, censorship is just one reason netizens play with words online. Another is the very technology that enables people today to input Chinese characters onto their cell phones and computers.

Read the complete article here

Ha! Ha!

See my master list of all the homonyms, homophones, and other confusingly similar words I’ve posted to date.

Nicely Said

When I come across something I think is particularly well written or well said, or admire for the writer’s creative choice of words and clarity of thought, I like to share it with you.

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another which states that this has already happened.

Douglas Adams
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

We come from nothing, we are going back to nothing  — In the end what have we lost? Nothing!
Monty Python’s Graham Chapman

This is my new philosophy of life. I think it also explains the backend of the Big Bang theory.

Magnetism is one of the six fundamental forces in nature, the other five being gravity, duct tape, whining, remote control, and the force that pulls dogs towards the groins of strangers.
Humorist Dave Barry

Dave Barry has been making me laugh for years. He’s my favorite Boomer, proud to have him in my generation.

Here, Barry pokes fun at the crap you read on the Internet.

God knows how many people read Barry’s comment on the Net and take it as gospel. How many high school and college papers have Barry’s Six Fundamental Forces already appeared in?

I came across something that reinforces Barry’s point: “The trouble with quotes on the Internet is it’s hard to know if they’re real.” Abraham Lincoln

So true, Mr President. I’ve printed your quote on a bookmark that I keep in my Bible, the one I bought on e-Bay for a pretty penny, autographed by Jesus Christ.

Ninety percent of everything is crap.

This adage is commonly known as Sturgeon’s Law.

In 1951, science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon defended the Sci-Fi genre by stating, “Ninety percent of [science fiction] is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud.”

This was at a time, the 1950s – squaresville to the tenth power — when it was uncool to be a nerd. Now, more than a 100,000 people show up for Comic-Con in San Diego, a celebration of science fiction and fantasy literature.

Sturgeon’s statement has morphed into the all-encompassing ninety percent of everything is crap.

A truism for teenagers but a belief most of us grow out of. Unless you look at social media, blogs (like this one),  and just about anything you see on the Internet (see Dave Barry and Abe Lincoln above).

Maybe Sturgeon’s Law should be amended to read: Ninety percent of everything on the Internet is crap.

I myself go by the 80/20 rule (the Pareto principle).

In any organization, twenty percent of the people do eighty percent of the work. Twenty percent of customers account for eighty percent of revenue. Staying in shape is eighty percent watching what you eat and twenty percent exercise. Eighty percent of traffic accidents are caused by twenty percent of drivers. And on and on. See for yourself how true the 80/20 rule is.


Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
Søren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher & theologian (1813-1855)

Life’s big dilemma: We make decisions based on what we’ve learned from the past. But we can’t live in the past, we must move forward, to new experiences. It’s a bitch.

Kierkegaard’s observation is especially true of history. We don’t know where we are in the story. Oh, sure: we understand history after the fact — hindsight is 20/20. But what’s happening now is a puzzle piece we don’t know where will fit in.

Okay, this is just a cheap attempt to bump up visitors to Steve of Upland. Here’s the most popular Nicely Said post that ever appeared on my blog:

Copyright © The National Human Genome Research Institute

Something we learned from the Human Genome Project is that the entire 6 billion-member human species goes back 7,000 generations to an original population of about 60,000 people. Our species has only a modest amount of genetic variation — the DNA of any two humans is 99.9 percent identical.
Garrison Keillor, The Writer’s Almanac for June 26, 2010
“It was on this date that rival scientific teams completed the first rough map of the human genome. ”

What profound information is packed into those two sentences! Only one-tenth of one percent of my DNA makes me a distinct individual; in every other way, down to the smallest detail, I am identical (or at least my DNA is) to any other human being. When I read that, I’m reminded of Matthew Arnold’s “The same heart beats in every human breast.”

And 7,000 generations! Think of all the life stories that have happened as generation after generation unfolds, “struts and frets its hour upon the stage,” and then makes way for a new generation and new stories.

And who were these 60,000 original people?

And, most important, what’s the point? Are we just vehicles for our genes?

Just found this:

“Researchers at London’s Kew Gardens said Thursday they’d discovered that the Paris japonica has a genetic code 50 times longer than that of a human being. The length of that code easily beats its nearest competitor, a long-bodied muck dweller known as the marbled lungfish.”
Claim: White flower has world’s longest genome

This speaks to the marvelous efficiency of the human genome. Think of the early computers that would fill a room and weigh several tons, while today you can hold a computer in the palm of your hand that is thousands of times more powerful.

I’m reading The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. That illustration of a cell with its DNA pulled out? It could represent a normal cell in your body, or one that spells your doom:

“A cancer cell is an astonishing perversion of the normal cell. Cancer is a phenomenally successful invader and colonizer in part because it exploits the very features that make us successful as a species or as an organism.

“Like the normal cell, the cancer cell relies on growth in the most basic elemental sense: the division of one cell to form two. In normal tissues, this process is exquisitely regulated, such that growth is stimulated by specific signals and arrested by other signals.

“In cancer, unbridled growth gives rise to generation upon generation of cells.

“Biologists use the term clone to describe cells that share a common genetic ancestor. Cancer, we now know, is a clonal disease. Nearly every known cancer originates from one ancestral cell that, having acquired the capacity of limitless cell division and survival, gives rise to limitless numbers of descendants…

“But cancer is not simply a clonal disease; it’s a clonally evolving disease.  If growth occurred without evolution, cancer cells would not be imbued with their potent capacity to invade, survive, and metastasize. Every generation of cancer cells creates a small number of cells that is genetically different from its parents.”

The cure to cancer, the secret of immortality, may result from unlocking the human genome.

“And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.'”
Genesis 3:22

Flip Side of a Word: Antonyms

Antonyms are words opposite in meaning, such as up & down, lost  & found, hot & cold, young & old.

I usually write about homonyms, words that share the same sound and sometimes the same spelling but have different meanings, like tail & tale, pail & pale.

Homonyms are mischievous, ready to pull the pants down of the unwary writer.  As in this newspaper headline: Woman Kicked By Horse Upgraded To Stable.

Antonyms are not as fun as those prankster homonyms. But antonyms are astonishingly useful.

Synonyms – words with similar meanings – are the more popular writer’s tool, but for my money the underrated antonym is just as handy, and much more interesting.

Antonyms help us understand the full meaning of words

Just knowing the definition doesn’t always mean you comprehend a word well enough to use it regularly and accurately.

An antonym can unlock the full meaning of a word. Know the flip side of a word and you’ll know when and how to use that word.

If I’m unfamiliar with a word and the dictionary has its antonym – a word I do know — that really nails down the new word’s meaning.

When I know the word backwards and forwards (I couldn’t resist throwing in those antonyms!), I’m much more likely to use this word when the opportunity comes up.

Two unfamiliar words I recently came across are dehort and exfiltrate.

My dictionary gave me the definitions, but it was the words’ antonyms – words I’m familiar with, exhort and infiltrate — that completed my understanding.

exfiltrate  withdraw surreptitiously
Steve spotted one of his creditors and exfiltrated the trade show
infiltrate  enter surreptitiously and gradually
The guard dozed off, allowing the sniper to infiltrate the compound

dehort  warn people not to do something; dissuasion
Thou shalt not steal from Steve’s blog – it shows poor taste
  encourage people to do something; persuasion
Do onto others as you would have others do unto you

Antonyms help improve our vocabulary

Who knows how many words are in the English language? One million? Two million?

Of all those many words, antonyms stand out. Antonyms are easily recognizable because they fit a tight pattern – they’re opposites.

The human brain is wired to seek patterns. That’s why we see constellations in the random stars scattered across the night sky – Leo the Lion, Orion the Hunter, the Big Dipper. We remember things by association, by recognizing patterns.

It’s easier to remember words when their pattern, their relationship, sticks in our memory. With antonyms it’s easy to remember the relationship: opposites.

We all have common antonyms stuck together in our minds – back and forth, head over heels, right from wrong are a few examples.

The stickiness of antonyms works for me when I want to add a new word to my vocabulary. After I look up the definition, I find the word’s antonym. I remember my new word and its antonym as a pair.

Recent additions to my vocabulary: nadir & zenith, prone & supine, dorsal & ventral.

Antonyms spark creativity

Creativity is about taking old concepts, imagining connections, and coming up with something new.

You can’t be creative with lazy thinking. You have to shake things up, drop preconceptions, and turn things on their head to generate new insights, breakthroughs and innovations.

By looking at opposites, you can see things from a completely different angle.

Maybe it was an antonym that inspired Christopher Columbus to launch his voyage of discovery: People say the world is flat, but what if it were round? I wonder what’s over the horizon?

Antonyms are the antidote to lazy thinking.

“Night and Day” is a brainstorming exercise that uses antonyms. The purpose of the game is to improve upon a group’s ability to find multiple solutions to a problem and how to come up with them quickly. To begin, the group is to make a list of common terms. They then come up with the first antonym of each that they can think of. Next, they are to think of an additional three for each. Now that the group has practiced finding more than one solution, they can put this in place to tackle whatever problem is being worked on.
From Brainstorming Activities for Adults by Tyrone Scales

Want to be wealthy? First step on your road to riches is to study how to go broke, and then do the opposite. Odd, isn’t it, that negative thinking brings positive results.

If you’re hard pressed to think of ways to go broke, email me and I’ll tell you how I’ve handled my finances. It’s a road map to bankruptcy.

Use antonyms for powerful and pithy statements

The jarring contrast between two antonyms appearing in the same sentence telegraphs a concept, story, idea in stark black & white (two antonyms!).

Antonyms are storytellers: love & hate, acceptance & denial, courage & cowardice. The interplay of opposites sets up conflict, movement, direction, action, suspense.

With antonyms, in few words, you can express worlds about your subject.

I was lost but now I’m found / Was blind but now I see

Jesus said, “I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last”

”Get busy living, or get busy dying,” advises author Steven King

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor

Every sweet has its sour; every evil its good (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Less is more

The mind is its own place and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven (John Milton)

Many complain about not getting enough love;
but few about how little they’ve been giving (Dr. Mardy Grothe)

I could go on and on, but it’s time for the Antonym Awards!

The award for Most Antonyms Appearing in a Single Sentence goes to …  the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Not every word has an antonym

Adjective words have the most antonyms. Second place goes to verbs. Most nouns refer to a specific thing — such as dolphin, bottle, France — so do not have antonyms.

Just as synonyms don’t have exactly the same meaning – each word has its own connotation, antonyms are not always exact opposites. A word that comes close to having the opposite meaning of another word is a near antonym.

“For example,” says the Merriam Webster Dictionary, “afraid is not so exactly opposite to courageous as cowardly is, but afraid and courageous certainly have markedly contrasting meanings and so are considered near antonyms.”

But we’re splitting hairs. As I’ve shown, antonyms are astonishingly useful – even half-ass antonyms.


Ironically, the word antonym is itself an antonym of the word synonym, and synonym (words with similar meanings) is the antonym of antonym (words with opposite meanings).

Finally, I dehort you: Never underestimate the power of the antonym to improve your vocabulary, writing, and creativity.

And I exhort you: Always look at the flip side of a word!

Click to see my favorite antonyms

Click to see famous books with antonyms in their titles
Yes, War and Peace is one of them

Click to see my all posts on Homonyms, Homophones & Confusingly Similar Words

I love homonyms, like antonyms, but I’m lukewarm about synonyms.
Here’s my rant on synonyms and the folly of using a thesaurus:
Cinnamon Finder. Wait … I Mean, Synonym Finder