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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
A parable is a type of analogy. Consequently, most of the recorded words of Christ are teachings by means of analogy. Many of the parables take the form of short stories, such as the story of the Prodigal Son, the Unforgiving Servant, or the Workers in the Vineyard. Some of the analogies used by Jesus, however, are not in story form, but simply use comparison (ordered-pairs and illustrative parallels) to illuminate or emphasize the point. Several of these appear in the Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 5-7.
Ordered-pair analogies, which take the form A is to B as C is to D, or simply A : B :: C : D, often appear in standardized tests. But as we saw in my earlier post, Analogy in Proverbs, they often appear in the Bible as well in slightly more ordinary language. Here are two examples from the Sermon on the Mount.
“He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:45)
We can simplify this analogy in standard form: ‘making the sun rise’ is to ‘sending rain’ as ‘evil and good’ is to ‘just and unjust.’ The first pair are similar, the second synonymous.
“But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” (Mat. 5:39-41)
These three ordered pairs are applications of the general principle, “Do not resist an evil person. If he forces you to do something painful but otherwise not sinful, do even more.” This is such a familiar analogy that the phrase go the second mile has become a cliché.
Some ordered-pair analogies use terms that are basically synonyms. Here Jesus uses synonymous repetition to emphasize His point:
“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44)
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt. 7:7)
Other ordered pairs set up an antithesis using antonyms, as in these examples from the Sermon:
“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:19)
“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.” (Matt. 7:13-14)
Jesus also persuades by means of illustrative parallels, which were explained in detail in my earlier post, Constructing Illustrative Parallels. Here are three examples, one from each chapter of the Sermon on the Mount.
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16)
The intermediate conclusion is that light is not meant to be hidden, nor to illuminate itself, but to shed light on something else. Thus we should neither hide our good works, nor use them to glorify ourselves, but to glorify our Father.
“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matt. 6:28-30)
Here the intermediate conclusion is, of course, that God clothes all of His creatures. Thus he will clothe you, His child.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” (Matt. 7:15)
The intermediate conclusion here is that some creatures who look harmless on the outside are concealing their true, dangerous nature. So be wary!
In my first post of this series on analogies, I explained that one typical analogy form is the ordered-pair, A is to B as C is to D, or more briefly A : B :: C : D. This is how most people think about analogies, having seen them in the vocabulary or reasoning sections of standardized tests. But in reading through Proverbs recently, I uncovered about fifty analogies, most of which can be reduced to ordered-pair form.
One Ordered Pair Illuminates the Other
For example, Proverbs 3:12 says,
“For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.”
This analogy can be reduced to an ordered pair:
The Lord : His beloved :: a father : his delighted son
The common concept between these analogous pairs is that the first corrects or disciplines the second. The comparison is helpful because the familiar, concrete image of a father correcting the son in whom he delights illuminates the less familiar, more abstract idea of the Lord correcting His beloved.
Here are two more examples:
“As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” (Prov. 26:11)
“Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.” (Prov. 26:20)
In those examples, the first analogous pair illuminates the second.
Rather than using an analogy to illuminate the less familiar by means of the more, many proverbs simply restate the main point using synonymous pairs. Here are several examples in which the ordered pairs are synonyms:
“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.” (Prov. 1:28, cf. Mt. 7:7)
“I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to those who instructed me!” (Prov. 5:13)
“Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice?” (Prov. 8:1)
“For a harlot is a deep pit, and a seductress is a narrow well.” (Prov. 23:27)
Many other proverbs set up an antithesis, using antonyms in ordered pairs:
“The curse of the Lord is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the home of the just.” (Prov. 3:33)
“A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother.” (Prov. 10:1)
“The hand of the diligent will rule, but the lazy man will be put to forced labor.” (Prov. 12:24)
Analogies by means of Hebrew parallelism are employed throughout Scripture. In my next post, we will consider analogies in the New Testament.
In my last post, I claimed that there are three typical ways we use analogies: basic comparisons, ordered-pairs, and illustrative parallels. In this post I will explain how to construct an illustrative parallel, which is a powerful means of proof.
An illustrative parallel reasons from a particular example (the source) to a particular conclusion (the target). The process combines inductive reasoning (from the particular example to a general statement) and deductive reasoning (from the general statement to the particular conclusion) as shown:
I am fascinated by the inductive-deductive process that the mind goes through when reasoning by analogy, such as in the parables. For example, Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:14-15, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” The source (“no one lights a lamp to put it under a basket, but to give light to the house”) inductively implies the general intermediate conclusion that what is meant to illuminate something should not be covered, and that it is uncovered not in order to display itself, but something else. So when he deductively makes the particular conclusion in verse 16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven,” we understand that we should do good works, not to shine a light on ourselves, but that men might glorify God.
Inventing good analogies can be difficult, but we can be helped using the pattern above. Say that you want to use an analogy to respond to this challenge: “Why study formal logic? Everyone can already reason!” You could argue that the study of formal logic helps to improve our reasoning skills by providing standards to distinguish between good and bad reasoning. This is your target. It can be deduced from the general statement that studying a language art can provide standards by which we distinguish between the proper and improper use of that art. Given this, we must then invent a source, a different example of the general statement, and one that is preferably more familiar that the target. What familiar language art provides us with such standards? English is a good example; the study of English helps us improve our speaking and writing skills by providing standards to distinguish proper English from improper. The basic analogy could then be simply stated: “‘Why study formal logic? Everyone can reason.’ That’s like arguing, ‘Why study formal English? Everyone can speak!’”
Imitating the Masters
Jesus is, of course, the Master of analogies, as of all other forms of argument. But there are also many lesser masters from whom we can learn this art. My favorites include C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Mark Twain, and Doug Wilson. Here are some of my favorites:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen; not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” ― C. S. Lewis
“The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” ― G.K. Chesterton
“Laws are sand, customs are rock. Laws can be evaded and punishment escaped, but an openly transgressed custom brings sure punishment.” ― Mark Twain
“We have no structure any more. We have no shared creed. We do not know what we are here for. It makes no sense to speak of our inherited ‘shared values,’ or better yet, ‘core values.’ If they are arbitrary, shared values are worthless. If they are arbitrary, core values are simply located where our intestines are, and are full of the same thing.” ― Doug Wilson
“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” ― Anne Bradstreet
What are some of your favorite analogies? Leave a comment!
I have been thinking about analogies lately, and finding them fascinating. There appear to be three basic uses for the term analogy.
First, almost any comparison, especially one in which a familiar, simpler, or concrete thing is used to clarify or illuminate something that is unfamiliar, complex, or abstract, can be called an analogy. For example, this excerpt from George Orwell’s essay “A Hanging” is considered an analogy:
They crowded very close about him, with their hands always on him in a careful, caressing grip, as though all the while feeling him to make sure he was there. It was like men handling a fish which is still alive and may jump back into the water.
The manner in which the guards handled the prisoner is compared to men handling a fish. Most people have tried to handle a live fish just pulled from the water that wants back in, so this comparison gives the reader a vivid mental picture of the less familiar situation Orwell is describing.
Second, we see analogies in what can be called ordered-pair form: A is to B as C is to D, or more briefly A : B :: C : D. Typically these appear in the vocabulary or reasoning section of standardized tests, like this sample question from the GRE. Choose the analogous pair:
APPRENTICE : PLUMBER ::
A. player : coach
B. child : parent
C. student : teacher
D. intern : doctor
The best answer is D. Just as an apprentice is training to be a plumber, so an intern is training to be a doctor. A child does not formally study to become a parent, and a player or student is not necessarily studying to become a coach or teacher (respectively).
Third, we see analogies being used for the purposes of persuasion, called arguments by analogy, or what Aristotle calls illustrative parallels. Here is an example from Aristotle’s Rhetoric II.20:
Public officials ought not to be selected by lot. That is like using the lot to select athletes, instead of choosing those who are fit for the contest; or using the lot to select a steersman from among a ship’s crew, as if we ought to take the man on whom the lot falls, and not the man who knows most about it.
Illustrative parallels use both inductive and deductive reasoning. We use inductive reasoning to mentally move from the source (e.g. we ought not use the lot to select athletes) to a more general, unspoken intermediate conclusion (we ought not randomly select someone for a skilled position). We then use deductive reasoning to move from this intermediate conclusion to our specific conclusion, the target (we ought not select public officials by lot).
In my next post, I will explain how to construct illustrative parallels.