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February 2nd, 2019

There exists a category of words that sits right between synonym and antonym.  These consist of interesting pairs that in some sense have the exact same definition but completely contrary meanings.


A silly name that might apply here is rivalnym.  Composed of both the word parts rival + nym.  Meaning literally rival word.  A rival is defined as someone who has the same objective but is in competition for that objective.


Episode 3 of Tinkered Thinking looked at one set of these rivalnyms:


Determined and Stubborn.  They both indicate something steadfast about a person’s point of view or behavior.  But one is negative and the other is positive.  The difference is dictated by an outside perspective and whether or not that third-person perspective approves of the goal of such behavior or point of view.  If we like someone’s goal we think of them as determined.  If we don’t, we’re likely to think of the person as being stubborn.


Another pair of words that might qualify as rivalnyms are:


Nervous and Excited.


With the word nervous, what exactly is the word literally referring to?  Nerves.  And what is happening to them?  They are excited.  Play this question game in reverse starting at the word ‘excited’ and it works symmetrically.  What is excited when we feel excited?  Inevitably it boils down to excited nerves.


And yet we use one of these words to imply something positive and the other to indicate the negative version of the same circumstance.


Rivalnyms are perhaps the simplest linguistic examples that demonstrate subjectivity, or how our perspective dictates our identification and categorization of a situation.  The mere phenomenon that we’ve created nearly identical words with polar opposite uses should serve as a warning and a guide that our discourse is utterly dominated by an emotional slant. 


However, being aware of this subtle category of words can help us be more cognizant while speaking, in order to notice what degree and kind of emotion our point of view is operating through.


The most important Rivalnyms and the perennial pair of concepts around which this discourse circles is









While we might approach the connection of these two words from a variety of angles, one important facet of this pair is that we can appropriately define them as


reactions to the unknown.


When we come across a problem to which we do not readily see an answer, how do we react?  With confusion and the concurrent feelings of frustration and aggravation?


Or do we respond with curiosity. 


It’s imperative not to see rivalnyms as mutually exclusive.  For example we might initially react with confusion and then invoke curiosity in order to move forward through that confusion.  We might look at one of the previous examples and realize that likewise we can start off seeing a person as stubborn and later change our position and reinterpret the same person’s efforts as determination.  This change might conveniently arrive when the observed person in question finally achieves some goal we didn’t approve of and the difference is more positive than we expected.  Our language about the person likewise changes.


We might start off an activity feeling nervous and worried and as we relax or gain proficiency, that same nervousness is now interpreted as positive excitement.


The core concept at the heart of a rivalnym pair is seeing that they are in fact the same thing, and our inclination to identify with one more than the other can be a choice.  Often, however, we don’t even realize there is a choice until we actually notice these subtle shifts in the way we experience things.  Such revelations deserve a new root in our mind, a new word to equip our mind with the ability to question. 


Beset by some obstacle or problem, we can focus on our perspective, our feeling, our effort and behavior and ask?  Is this the best way to move forward?  Or is there some better rivalnymic way that I can switch to in order to make progress?


This episode references Episode 3: Determined vs. Stubborn and Episode 49: Confusion or Curiosity.

Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 293: Rivalnym

Tinkered Thinking

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