How negative are you

Sedlaczek on Wednesday: "It is positive that you are negative!"

Our thinking and our language are constructed to a high degree antonymically, i.e. in opposites. We are currently experiencing this in daily reporting. The Minister of Health appeals to us to adhere to the lockdown regulations, because: The infection numbers are "going up", they have to be "going down". The work of the government is expressly "praised" by a "majority", but sharply "criticized" by a "minority"; companies that were recently "in the black" report "red numbers". In the broadest sense, word pairs such as microphone and loudspeaker are antonyms.

We journalists love opposites because they allow stylistically interesting formulations: Covid-19 and the great worries of ordinary people. Paradoxes can also be based on antonyms: Back to the future!

I take such examples from the "dictionary of counterwords" by Wolfgang Müller and Jakob Ebner. The second edition of the "Contrasting Dictionary with Instructions for Use" has just been published by the science publisher Walter de Gruyter. It comprises around 16,000 word pairs on almost 900 pages. I immediately looked up how the authors deal with the multi-layered pair of opposites positive / negative. The meanings are listed in order: (a) a positive / negative attitude that is desirable from the speaker's point of view (b) positively / negatively charged particles (c) a positive / negative number (greater or less than zero) (d) a positive / negative (favorable / unfavorable) decision (s) the laboratory test was positive / negative (the suspicion of the disease was confirmed / not confirmed). That is a precise statement.

My second look was at the pair of opposites hungry / full and the entry too thirsty, because thirsty lacks an expression for the opposite. Every now and then this was perceived as a problem, the gap in the system had to be filled. The satirical magazine "Pardon" propagated the made-up word "schmöll". With Müller / Ebner one reads the example sentence: "he is (already) schmöll" and then: "nonexistent, but suggested word for: no longer thirsty to close the semantic gap." Years later after "Pardon", the "Duden" publishing house called for suggestions to be sent in. It won the made-up word sitt - properly educated too full. This word was not able to establish itself either, it is not noted in either the "Spelling Duden" or the "Counterword Dictionary".

Why did these attempts have to fail? I don't think we miss the word sitt. "Would you like another glass of water?" - "Thank you, I'm already sitt!" There will never be such a dialogue. The usual answer is, "Thank you, I'm no longer thirsty." Just as absurd would be the question: "Are you already sane or would you like another glass of wine?" We say, "He drank beyond thirst", but the line between "thirsty" and "no longer thirsty" is not as clear for wine and water as it is for hungry and full. We should probably consider ourselves lucky that we have excellent drinking water coming out of the tap in any amount.