Monthly Archives: July 2017

Synonyms, Antonyms & Scripture

While studying analogies and relationships between terms, I have been considering synonyms and antonyms, and I have come to some surprising realizations.

Defining Synonym and Antonym

A synonym is a word that has the same meaning as another word in the same language. If you were asked to think of several words and their synonyms, you would probably not have too much difficulty: rope & cord, huge & enormous, stone & rock, sleep & doze, etc. English has such an extensive vocabulary that most words have a synonym or near synonym. But if I asked you to think of words that have no synonym, that’s harder. Some possibilities are pencil, helmet, and elbow. But it takes some careful thought. In fact, can you think of a verb or adjective that has no synonym?

An antonym is a word that has the opposite meaning as another word in the same language. By its definition, it appears that antonym is the antonym of synonym. You can probably think up several antonym pairs without too much effort: freedom & slavery, large & small, clean & dirty, father & mother. But if you look around, you will see many things that have no antonym: bottle, brick, book, cabinet, keyboard. It seems about as difficult to think of things that have no synonym as it is to think of things that do have an antonym. Why is this?

Antonym Profundities

Synonyms say something about language and its development. But antonyms say something about the nature of the thing itself, that in someway it has a counterpart. If you develop a list of antonym pairs, they will likely be words that represent fundamental concepts. They seem to reflect something about how God made the world (light & darkness, evening & morning, male & female), or about the fallen nature (sin & righteousness, good & evil, freedom & slavery), or about kinds of separation or direction (present & absent, in & out, left & right).

There are also different species of antonyms. Some are complementary or binary, A and non-A, such as true & false, motion & rest, whole & part. In these cases there are only two options: if a statement is not true then it is false; if an object is moving then it is not at rest; the whole of something is not just a part; and vice versa for each of these.

Relational antonyms lie on a continuum, such as large & small, full & empty, rich & poor. These antonym pairs tend to be adjectives, and there are intermediate states. A house that is not large is not necessarily small; a pitcher can be neither full nor empty; if your uncle is not rich, it doesn’t mean he is poor.

Then there are opposites that are a compromise of these first two types: antonyms that have not a continual but a single intermediate state: positive, negative, & zero; above, below, & level.

Some antonym pairs exist in a relationship with a reversed direction or focus, such as husband & wife, lend & borrow, employer & employee. In such pairs, one can usually not exist without the other: if there is a husband there is a wife; if one lends another borrows; a person with no employees is not an employer. These are called converse antonyms.

Some words have more than one antonym, depending on how you think about them. What is the antonym of father? Is it mother? Or is it son? The definition of father is ‘male parent.’ The opposite of male is female, and a female parent is a mother. On the other hand, the opposite of parent is child, and a male child is a son.  Other examples are possible.

Synonyms and Antonyms in Scripture

Biblical authors make regular use of synonyms and antonyms. A quick glance through Proverbs will reveal this. Consider all the antonyms in this passage:

For the perverse person is an abomination to the Lord, but His secret counsel is with the upright. The curse of the Lord is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the home of the just. Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble. The wise shall inherit glory, but shame shall be the legacy of fools. (Prov. 3:32-35)

Proverbs also include synonym pairs for poetic purposes:

Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice? She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, beside the way, where the paths meet. She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entrance of the doors: “To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. O you simple ones, understand prudence, and you fools, be of an understanding heart.” (Prov. 8:1-5)

Ecclesiastes 3:2-8 has a poetic list of fourteen verbal antonyms:

A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to gain, and a time to lose; A time to keep, and a time to throw away; A time to tear, and a time to sew; A time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; A time of war, and a time of peace.

Can you identify the synonyms and antonyms in Matthew 7:13-14?

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

How many examples of synonyms and antonyms in the Bible can you find?

Mr. Nance,

My son is in high school, and we want to use your Fitting Words curriculum. If he works through the Fitting Words text in tenth grade, would it be appropriate for him to work through it again as a review in eleventh and/or twelfth grade?

What would you advise? Thank you in advance.

Fitting Words: Classical Rhetoric for the Christian Student was designed to be taught as either a one-year intensive course, or a two-year regular course. In the front of the Fitting Words Answer Key are one- and two-year schedules. I would suggest that your son work through the curriculum over two years, tenth and eleventh grade.

In the first year the topics covered are:

Unit 1: Foundations of Rhetoric
Unit 2: Invention and Arrangement
Unit 3: Understanding Emotions: Ethos and Pathos
Unit 4: Fitting Words to the Topic: Special Lines of Argument

In the second year the topics are:

Unit 5: General lines of Argument (a review of logic)
Unit 6: Fitting Words to the Audience: Style and Ornament
Unit 7: Memory and Delivery

For twelfth grade, I would suggest a thesis paper (or papers, perhaps including a research paper) and defense, applying what they have learned in the first two years.


Minecraft Logic

So apparently, creating digital logic circuits on the game Minecraft redstone is a thing.

I was recently sent some screen-captures of the answer to Exercise 34, problem 4. You can create the circuit in the game, and it will give you the outputs for the various inputs. It appears to use an SPST switch for the inputs.

Anyone else out there use the Minecraft game for their Digital Logic studies?

Eureka! A Discovery of Proportions

I have been making a study of analogies and analogical reasoning, and recently saw a connection that I had not seen before. That connection is between what is called ordered-pair analogies, i.e. A is to B as C is to D (or more briefly A : B :: C : D) and mathematical fractions. I was fascinated by what I found. Let me explain.

Re-arranging analogy pairs

I first noticed that, in an ordered-pair analogy, corresponding parts had to be the same part of speech (noun, verb, adjective, etc). Either A & B and C & D had to be the same part of speech, or A & C and B & D had to be the same. For example, this is a good analogy:

drink : eat :: liquid : solid.

Here we have “verb is to verb as noun is to noun.” But an equally valid analogy is

drink : liquid :: eat : solid.

This is “verb is to noun as verb is to noun.” If the first analogy is A : B :: C : D, this second one is A : C :: B : D. Similarly, we can invert both pairs to get valid analogies, as in these examples:

eat : drink :: solid : liquid

liquid : drink :: solid : eat

These would be B : A :: D : C, and C : A :: D : B. We could also switch each pair around the double colon. All these work as good analogies.

The connection

Now, those of you reading closely who remember your basic fractions probably see the connection already. If this is a true equality,

A/B = C/D

then so are all these:

A/C = B/D

B/A = D/C

C/A = D/B.

These equalities follow the same patterns as the analogies above. You might see it clearer with specific numbers. If the first equality is true (and it is), then all the rest must be true:

16/24 = 6/9
16/6 = 24/9
24/16 = 9/6
6/16 = 9/24.

The question

Do you see it? Every re-arrangement that is valid for verbal analogies is equally valid for mathematical fractions, and vice versa. But why should this be so? What is the connection between these two very different kinds of proportions?

There may be some connection between reducing the numerical fraction and finding the fundamental relationship in the verbal analogy. Just as 16/24 = 6/9 because they both equal 2/3, so ‘eat : solid :: drink : liquid’ because they share the relationship of ‘mode of consuming : state of matter of what is consumed.’

I am confident that there is something deeper going on here. Can you find any other connections between verbal analogies and numerical fractions?

Rules for Guessing

Shorter truth tables can help us find if an argument is valid, or a set of propositions are consistent, or if two propositions are equivalent. However, when completing a shorter truth table, we must sometimes guess a truth value for a variable. This occurs when there are no “forced” truth values — that is, when there exists more than one way to complete the current truth value for every remaining proposition.

Here are two rules to keep in mind when you must guess a truth value:

  1. If guessing allows you to complete the shorter truth table without contradiction, then stop; your question is answered. Either you have shown the argument is invalid, or the given propositions are consistent, or the two propositions are not equivalent.
  2. If the guess leads to an unavoidable contradiction, then you must guess the opposite truth value for that variable and continue, because the contradiction just might be showing that your guess was wrong.

Take a look at this post for a flowchart for guessing with validity.