Why are anaphonic antonyms regarded as chance by many linguistic historians, if this could be regarded as an Ancient mnemonic method of creating a logical and easy inverted spelling of antonyms?

Anaphone I would define as “A word that spelled backwards shows an antonym” (I regard near anaphones (the spelling backwards is nearly identical) as valid too if the antonymous relation exists in context.

Compare: Growth/groot/Gross versus: Dwarf/Dwerg/Zwerg

If we would not regard this as chance, what could we call such a phenomenon?

To make it a bit more complex: Compare: Cloud/de wolk versus: Claw/walk Soul versus sole (of the shoe) What do we call such phenomenon if the relation is not antonymous, but contains an identical root (in the example the same root can be found in the word ‘ciel’ which shows an antonymous relation to ‘leg’ and ‘lig’ but the root is used in different contexts.

I could invent ‘antocrypt’ but some brilliant mind must have found a name for this already...?

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    ......so Frawd is the same as Growth? – jick Sep 19 at 20:45
  • If the German and Dutch words for dwarf end with a ‘g’, I assume that the English spelling of ‘f’ is the odd one. Same goes for the Dutch and German ‘e’ where English has ‘a’. So ‘Frawd’ doesn’t fit, but ‘grewd’ and ‘grewz’ show phonetic similarities with ‘growth’ and groot/Gross (large/big). But the question is not about the example, but about terminology. If you have an answer, I would like to hear it. I am not interested in mockery, which I hope was not your intention. – Ajagar Sep 19 at 21:05
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    I think you're just finding coincidental similarities between words and some nearish-antonyms which happen to have a vaguely similar but reversed spelling. If you allow sufficient latitude in meaning and spelling then you're going to find lots of these. – Gaston Ümlaut Sep 20 at 6:11
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    Have you heard of the "Birthday Paradox" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birthday_problem ? Basically, if you have only 23 people, it is more likely than not that two people share a birthday. It's complete chance, and not the result of parents secretly conspiring to have babies at the same moment. With thousands of basic words from multiple languages, it will be surprising if you cannot find pairs that (very roughly) sound reverse of each other with related meanings. – jick Sep 20 at 17:15
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    I know this is rather condescending... but have you heard of "Burden of Proof"? You are the one proposing extremely unlikely connections, and it's your responsibility to back your argument, not mine (or anyone else's) to refute it. Bringing more and more poorly fitting examples will not persuade anybody, because it's not established that any of them actually means anything. – jick Sep 21 at 2:57

There are some that aren't chance! For example, an emordnilap is a word that gains a new meaning when it's written backward; the term was coined by flipping the existing word "palindrome" (a word that has the same meaning when written backward). Or in electrical engineering, the unit of conductance is the mho (the unit of resistance being the "ohm"). The technical term for these is ananyms.

However, most of these examples are fairly straightforward. Anyone who sees the word "emordnilap" with its will know it's not an inherited English word, and probably look for deeper meaning.

All of the ananyms I know of come from languages that already have a writing system. Written language requires breaking words up into units which you can then rearrange freely, but this isn't at all an obvious step for people who don't write. For example, ananyms in Japanese and Korean tend to reverse the syllables instead of the phonemes, while the English example emordnilap would be pronounced something like /ə.ˈmord.nɪ.læp/ rather than /mwoɹd.nɪl.ˈæp/.

Another way to think of this is: what does it mean to reverse a word? Until we had record players we couldn't actually reverse the waveform; a human vocal tract certainly can't. Reversing the phones? That requires a clear way to draw a line between phones, which even with modern spectrograms we can't do. Reversing the phonemes? If you asked a person on the street to reverse the sounds in the word "pineapple", they most likely wouldn't be able to do it: at best they'd write down the word backward and repronounce it according to English spelling rules. Even in your examples, you're relying on the spelling rather than the pronunciation.

TL;DR: Flipping words around simply doesn't seem to be part of human language; we simply don't have a mechanism for it (unlike, say, reduplication, which people can do trivially). As such, we don't see any examples of ananyms until the origin of writing—and even then, they tend not to really catch on.

  • There are many examples within languages and also between different language families. Could this phenomenon never been : stand vs dance; fall vs lauf/leap; atmen (to breathe) vs mut (Arabic death); Also near homophones; seat/stehe (stand). Not just antonyms but also concepts like ‘light’ and ‘ciel’. I don’t base my find on spelling but on rots and roots can be inverted to express an antonym in some cases. So it would not be a word invertion. It would be a method of understanding what compounded to a word and reverse that phrase. – Ajagar Sep 20 at 11:26

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