2wheels, the return: Edward Genochio's bike expedition across Asia to England

2wheels: The Return

Edward Genochio's bicycle expedition from China to England

September 2005 - November 2006

Sponsored by Decathlon China

 
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Mongolian Horseman Stole My Bicycle!

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The 2wheels expedition book:

- 'But Isn't There a Bus?' - details here.


2wheels is sponsored by:

- Decathlon China
- Drennan Co Shanghai
- Eclipse Internet
- P&O Ferries


2wheels supports:

- CereCare Centre
- Sustrans
- Force Cancer Care
- The Lotus Project
- The Wheelchair Foundation


Other writing by Edward Genochio:

- Some snippets
- In Voyage Magazine
- In The Adventure Cycling Handbook


Read the 2wheels latest:

- The 2wheels expedition blog


Send a message to 2wheels:

- Post your comments here
- Email me here here


Beyond 2wheels:

- Some links to other websites


Are you a journalist?

- Get the 2wheels media pack here


2wheels in the future:

- Some map-gazing ideas


Pretty pictures:

- The original 2wheels photo archive


The original 2wheels expedition site:

- 2004-5 from England to China


As seen / heard in:

- 2wheels media credits


2wheels websiteography:

- 2wheels sitemap
- Historical and technical notes on the 2wheels website


Krasnoyarskiy Kray, Siberia, Russia

Siberia

Tuva, Siberia, Russia

Horses, Mongolia

Baikal, Siberia, Russia

Hop off

Priyanik, half-eaten (by me), Kyakhta, Russian-Mongolian border. Shortly after this photograph was taken, the other half was eaten. Also by me.

Buryatia, Russia

Roadsign in Tuva, Russia

Tuva, Russia

The sky, I think

Tuva

Absent antonyms


This article has very little to do with cycling - and, no, unicycle (and its putative positive, icicle) doesn't qualify: even if rule 8 might lead you to think it does, it is disqualified under rule 4.


For several years I been wanting to compile a list of negative-looking words commonly found in the English language whose presumed positive forms are rarely, or never, found.

From time to time such a word floats into my mind, and nine times out of ten it floats straight back out again before I have had time write it down. What follows, therefore, is only the beginnings of a complete list. I hope that readers will contribute their own absent antonyms.

The rules are as follows:

For a word to qualify as an absent antonym:

  1. It must be a real, reasonably common, English word.

  2. It must both "sound" negative and have a negative meaning.

  3. It must begin with one of the standard English negative prefixes: at the moment, I am working with words starting with un-, in-, non- or a-. Variations of these prefixes that occur for reasons of elision, such as il- for in- in illogical, im- for in- in impossible, and an- for a-in anaerobic, are also permitted.

  4. The prefix must be a genuine negative prefix. For example, words beginning with in- or un- but where the in- or un- is merely part of another prefix (as in intelligent, internal, underwear), do not count, and neither do words that simply happen to begin with in-, like index or inch, nor those beginning with a- like apple or advocate).

  5. The negative form must be in reasonably common use. For now, at least, I am excluding terms that are primarily technical, scientific or medical, like arrhythmia and ataxia.

  6. The presumed positive form, i.e. that part of the word which remains after the negative prefix is removed, must be very rarely, or never found. If very rarely found, it should be very much rarer than the negative form. (See rule 8 for exceptions.)

  7. The presumed positive form, though never (or very rarely) found, must look and sound as though it could be a real word (even if it is not). It must be pronounceable and obey the rules of spelling.

  8. A word may still qualify for inclusion as an "absent antonym" even if the presumed positive form is commonly found, if (and only if) the commonly-found positive form clearly has a completely separate meaning from the negative form. For example, although toward is a common English preposition, it is very rarely used in the sense of being the antonym of untoward, so untoward still qualifies for place in the list of absent antonyms.

  9. A few other words may also qualify, at my discretion, where they clearly meet the spirit of the rules. For example, negative suffixes were not originally part of the game, but I have decided to include ruthless, on the grounds that while pointless suggests something lacking in point, and regardless suggests lacking in regard, ruthless appears to have little to do with the presence of absence of Ruth. Other submissions with negative suffixes, including -less and, perhaps, -free, may be considered. So too might any negative prefixes that I have missed; dis-, perhaps.


So far, my list contains no words with the Greek-derived negative prefix a-, in part because of the exclusion of technical terms under rule 5.


In no particular order, my list looks like this at the moment:

(Those with asterisks qualify as perfect absent antonyms, where the presumed positive is, so far as I know, never found. Those without asterisks have positive forms that are occasionally found, but very much more rarely than the negative form.)


Unrequited (requited is very rarely used).

Unfathomable (used very much more than fathomable, which, when used, is usually in a negative construction such as scarcely fathomable).

Inordinate (much more common than ordinate).

Untrammelled (trammelled is rarely found).

Untoward (though toward is a common word, untoward still qualifies under rule six).

*Intact (Tact is a commonly-found word, if not a commonly found quality, but its usual meaning (conveying the sense of polite discretion) is unrelated to intact, so the word qualifies under rule six. Intact, meaning untouched or undamaged, has a presumed positive form tact, meaning damaged, but one rarely hears American soldiers saying: "We blew that city up pretty well - man, it was totally tact."

*Infinity (finite, the adjective, is common enough, but I have never seen the presumed abstract noun finity, which ought, were it to exist, to convey the concept of boundedness).

*Inept (the adjective ept is absent).

*Nonsensical (sensical is not found).

Unmissable (missable is not recognised by my computer, though it is now perhaps becoming unofficially common when used as a sarcastic comment on, for example, a tedious museum).

Insufferable (sufferable seems much rarer).

Uncouth (couth is found, but much less often than its negative counterpart).

*Unspeakable (speakable is not found).

Unstinting (stinting is very rarely found).

Unthinkable (thinkable is very rarely found, and then usually in a negative construction such as barely thinkable).

*Insomnia (somnia is not found).

Unperturbed (found more often than the odd-looking perturbed).

*Indescribably (describably does not make it onto my computer's spell-checker; it might just scrape its way into a large dictionary, one of which to hand I do not have).

*Ruthless (qualifies as a wild-card under rule 9, having no apparent connection with Ruth.)

Ineffable (effable is rarely seen or heard)


It is notable that many of these absent antonyms form common clichés, and are frequently found in journalese, sports interviews, and pulp fiction. For example:

Unrequited is nearly always followed by love.

Incalculable is frequently followed by damage.

Inordinate usually precedes amount or quantity.

Efforts are usually unstinting, and nothing else usually is.

The unthinkable usually happens, at which point it is not infrequently the horror that is unspeakable.

Efficiency is very often ruthless.


It is tempting to conclude that at least some of these words, now commonly used, were in fact invented, or at least popularised, by journalists too lazy or incompetent to come up with the right descriptive word, or research their figures properly: inordinate, unimaginable, incalculable, unspeakable are all suggestive of this, and indescribable caps the lot.

If you have a new absent antonym, please post it here.

If you want to borrow from my list to start your own online compilation (perhaps you think my rules are too restrictive, or too generous, or too arbitrary), feel free - but I would be grateful if you would include a link from your website back to mine.

I am not an etymologist or a lexicographer, so please excuse errors and other evidence of ignorance above. Any etymological and lexicographical comments and suggestions are welcome.

back to writing


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