I am novice in linguistics but I have a keen interest in natural (spoken) languages. There is this concept in my mind called "extreme-opposites" or "extreme-antonyms". The concept goes like this:

Every word that describes some quality of a noun, has a by default* desirability attached to it. For example: punctual, honest, rude and sadist are qualities of a person, and their desirability is** as follows: desired, desired, not-desired and not-desired respectively.

The definition of extreme-opposite is (what I think) opposite of a quality such that desirability is kept unchanged. For example: obese is a quality. Now opposite of obese can be anything which is not-obese, therefore healthy and skinny are both opposite of obese. Take the quality of healthy first, notice the desirability here, obese quality is (generally) not-desired whereas being healthy is desired. The qualities namely obese and healthy are opposite to each other but desirability of each of them is different, hence they are not extreme-opposites rather just-opposites. Now take the word skinny, it is opposite of obese and it is not-desired. Both obese and skinny are opposite to each other, and both has same desirability i.e. not-desired. Hence they are extreme-opposites to each other. Other examples include:

Anti-national (not-desired)

  • Just opposite: Patriotic (desired) or Nationalism (desired)
  • Extreme opposite: Jingoism (not-desired) or Xenophobia (not-desired)

Stubborn (not-desired)

  • Just opposite: Cooperative (desired)
  • Extreme opposite: Submissive (not-desired)

Unsocial (not-desired)

  • Just opposite: Social (desired)
  • Extreme opposite: Pry (not-desired)

Serious (desired)

  • Just opposite: facetious (not-desired)
  • Extreme opposite: Humorous (desired)

Soft-spoken (desired)

  • Just opposite: Raucous (not-desired) or Cacophonous (not-desired)
  • Extreme opposite: Stentorian (desired) or Deep-voiced (desired)

It is easier to find extreme-opposites of qualities that are not-desired, than the qualities that are desired (this is what I observed). One might argue that extreme-opposites of not-desired qualities are nothing but simply their just-opposites prefixed with "too much" or "extreme of", for example: Submissive = too much cooperative, and Jingoism = extreme of nationalism.

To which I say, yes there is a relationship but shouldn't we define new collective terms (or concepts) if they can make our life easier? For example: we have singulars and plurals, and there is a relationship among them i.e. add "more than one" as a prefix to a singular and plural is no longer needed (mice more than one mouse or many mouse). However we still have plurals because they make our life easier, always writing "more than one", "many" or "group of" before a singular is cumbersome process. Same for extreme-opposites.

A collective term for such a concept can help in making arguments like "Listen Bob, if being X is not-desired then being Y is also not-desired", where X and Y are extreme-opposites of each other. It'll also help people to search what they are looking because then they can directly ask "what is extreme-opposite of X?" instead of explaining the entire concept of extreme-opposites like here and here

So I want to ask if there already exists a collective term for what I am proposing (in any language)? and if there isn't any shouldn't there be (at least in English)?

*there must be some qualities that cannot be simply categorized as "desired" or "not-desired" (I can't think of one), but here we talk about those qualities which can be easily categorized.

**one can desire to be a sadist or a rude person but I take desirability in a very general sense. One can also say desirability is dependent on context, like in the above example, one can say pure honesty is not-desired in a spy. Hence whenever I talk about desirability, it is in very general sense and without any special hypothetical context.

1 Answer 1


This is certainly an interesting idea, but I doubt you can subsume your approach under the label of antonymy. As a matter of fact, the antonym of "obese", whatever you might name it, needs to be located on the scale of weight. The fact that being obese is undesirable is derived from world-knowledge and has nothing to do with the word itself. Thus, I fear that one cannot set up any taxonomy of the kind you have in mind since every adjective triggers a vast range of associations of heterogeneous nature.

  • One problem is that any quality will have a 'zero' point, and you can never be sure (it is contextually ambiguous) whether that zero coincides with the antonym, or whether it lies mid-way between.
    – amI
    Nov 30, 2018 at 16:17

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