2wheels: The Return
Edward Genochio's bicycle expedition from China to England
September 2005 - November 2006
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Horseman Stole My Bicycle!
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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:
(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.)
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)
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.
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.
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