A missing word


You know what English needs? It needs a word that’s the opposite of “want.” It needs a word for want-not. Just adding a not doesn’t do it, because it’s too limp, too reactive, too mere. We need a word that’s more forceful, more feeling, than “don’t want.” An unwant word. A verb form of aversion.

Is there a verb form of aversion? If so it’s certainly not in active use. English needs a word like that that is in active use, and so is available to use.

Comments

  1. says

    No, not quite. Hate is the opposite of love but not the opposite of want.

    English has a lot of words to express hate, but I can’t think of one that expresses unwant. “Reject” is close, I guess…but I’d like one that’s closer. I wonder if other languages have the same lack. Finnish, for example. :)

  2. Blanche Quizno says

    Dislike, abhor, reject, disdain, and avoid come to mind…not perfect, perhaps, but close enough.

  3. opposablethumbs says

    abjure, eschew … but neither of them is exactly want-not, they’re more like abstain from and reject.

  4. says

    Thanks for that link jcsscj – interesting!

    I think the first reply is too smartyboots –

    No, there isn’t. There are a number of verbs that include this concept, but none that is simply the negative of want in all of its uses. That’s why we have negation, so we don’t have to memorize a different verb every time we want to negate one.

    No kidding, but we do also have plenty of pairs, and I think this one needs to be a pair. That’s because it’s such a core thing (which is why I had this thought). We have wants and needs, and we have dangers and harms. We should have corresponding verbs for each half of the pair. We want things that benefit us and we ______ things that harm us.

  5. says

    I think the way all these don’t quite fit – the way they’re close but not perfect – is that they’re not about the emotion of unwanting, and that’s what I’m looking for. They’re about what you do as a result of unwanting, rather than about the unwanting itself. They’re opposite of seek, acquire, grab, pursue etc. I want a word for the feeling.

  6. spanner says

    The opposite of the feeling of want is satisfaction or contentment, isn’t it? In the example given at #9, “want” is used in the sense of “seek, acquire, grab, pursue etc”, or maybe “desire”, so I’d fill the blank with something like “avoid” or “reject”.

  7. John Morales says

    Ophelia, your comment @11 works for me, and English is friendly to neologisms and to prefixes.

    Unwant, unwanted, unwanting.

  8. juliegomoll says

    Some goofy kitchen gadget was mentioned in my FB stream just now. A couple people wrote “WANT.” I posted “NO.” Not perfect, but it’s handy.

  9. philhoenig says

    John@14:

    “Unwant” suggests lack of want, or apathy with respect to the possession of the object. cf your example of “unwanted”, or the difference between “unloved” and “hated”.

    I’d suggest “diswant” as an active revulsion with respect to possession.

  10. chirez says

    I think I’d go with loathe.
    It’s not the same as hate, and contains some sense of disgust.

    I can’t really identify any feeling that would be the opposite of want though. There are opposing desires, and lack of desire, but the notion of some feeling contrary to desire seems an odd one. Perhaps due to the lack of a word for it. What made you need one?

  11. Lofty says

    The expression I most often hear/see when the opposite of want is expressed is meh, the emotion associated with a lack of want or care. A bit of work could get this word off the ground so to speak.
    From urban dictionary:
    Indifference; to be used when one simply does not care.
    A: What do you want for dinner?
    B: Meh.

  12. says

    But apathy isn’t it. It’s aversion, not apathy. For apathy “don’t want” would be fine. It’s aversion that “don’t want” falls way short of.

    So it’s actually a specific kind of wanting I’m talking about. This need probably doesn’t come up all that often…

  13. Claire Ramsey says

    In American Sign Language there is a now not very productive morpheme for negation. It’s not productive b/c there are not very many verbs that it can combine with. The part I like the most is that the negation morpheme turns signs upside down. Few signs can be turned upside down b/c of the ways the finger bones and hand bones are connected to the arm bones, etc. But want is one of them. So we have want. And we have upside down want, which every one knows translates as “do not want.” Sometimes I have translated it as “reject” although other ASL verbs translate to reject also.

    I suppose that “upside down want” is a bit too lumpy to become a word in contemporary English.

  14. Ichthyic says

    Is there a verb form of aversion?

    in case nobody said so yet… yes, there is.

    Aver is a common word, but it doesn’t mean what you want it to mean. :)

    more of a strong declaration.

  15. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    “I wonder if other languages have the same lack. Finnish, for example.”

    Finnish uses the “don’t want” construct. If nuances are needed, add context and emphasis by other means.

    BTW, there are several ways to translate ‘want’ to Finnish, depending on context. That ambiguity might be the reason why English lacks a generic opposite. I assumed politics (because FtB has lots of it) and in that context ‘hate’ isn’t the opposite of ‘love’. Hate-speech is against something you don’t want.

  16. Athywren says

    I know it doesn’t have quite the same effect in verbal communications in the meatspace, but I find that cat pictures work pretty well.
    You could always just carry a grumpy cat around with you?

  17. Tom Phoenix says

    Esperanto is basically the same situation as ASL. To use the word “malvoli” might make a listener laugh at first, but the idea is clear that it is something that you actively (as opposed to passively) do not want. “Mi malvolas tian kekson, pro tio ke mi alergias pri arakidoj.” (“I anti-want-to-have that kind of cookie, because I’m allergic to peanuts.”)

    I think you are correct that we need such a word, all the more so now that you have identified the concept. I wish you good luck both in finding a suitable coinage and sufficiently popularizing it such that it becomes useful.

  18. Latverian Diplomat says

    In terms of words in common usage, “oppose” is probably the closest, at least for many cases.

    But, most choices are not binary, and mere opposition is not always seen as a defensible position in and of itself. So if you don’t want a stimulus bill, it’s better to say “I want a balanced budget”, at least before you say “I oppose a stimulus bill”.

  19. phlo says

    For what it’s worth, the only language I know that has a word for “unwant” is Latin: nolle.

    In fact, this word is used to form the negative imperative – the famous “noli me tangere” literally means “do unwant to touch me”.

    Perhaps we can adopt it into the English language? “I nolo any more wine”?

  20. says

    Ah malvoli, I like that. Yellow stockings cross-gartered and all.

    And I’d forgotten about nolle. I think the Romance languages and their descendants should have taken that with them as they descended.

    I want chocolate hazelnut gelato. I nolo banana gelato.

  21. says

    IIRC nolle is a contraction of non velle. But I believe there was once an english equivalent for no lens – volens: will he – nill he, which then became willy-nilly. So maybe “to nill”?
    .
    I’ve always associated Malvoglio with malveillant / malevolent.
    Now the internet tells me “di malavoglia” means reluctantly or unwillingly,
    while malivolenza / malivoglienza / malivolo are related to malevolentia or malevolence.
    So which was he? I’m confused…

  22. jesse says

    Ophelia — don’t want to get too pedantic/ language nerdy on you, but I think the problem is defining what you mean by want. As you know the word (Germanic, as it happens) can mean “lack of” and “desire for” among other things and that might be a big reason why there is no generic opposite.

    Flipping through my books of the languages I know well enough to converse in at varying levels of proficiency/stumbling, there isn’t any equivalent in Russian, Hungarian, French or Spanish that I am aware of, but I am not a native speaker of any of them.

    I opened my dictionaries of Arabic, Hebrew, Cebuano and Turkish (which I only know a few words of) and didn’t find one in there either. But I don’t even know if there’s a way they express wanting that maps to English closely enough for the concept I think you’re shooting for.

    It’s been a long time since I spoke Japanese at all well. I seem to recall though that Japanese might have some words that fit the bill, but the way Japanese expresses wanting is so different that I don’t know if it fits. In Japanese some forms of wanting are expressed as a verb-adjectival which really doesn’t translate to English — but it means that I can say I don’t want something as the opposite-of-wanting, rather than straight up negation with a separate word “not/no” as in English and other Indo-European languages. An oversimplified example is “Ikitai” 行きたい (wanting to go) and 行きたくない “Ikitakunai” (not wanting to go). Strictly speaking the word is treated as an adjective. There’s a word “nozonde inai” 望んで いない “do not want” like “I do not want an apple” 私はりんご を 望んで いない. (Watashi wa ringo o nozonde inai). Or, I[topic] apples-[object] desire[negative-adjectival]. But the context is more like hoping for, I guess. (I need a native Japanese speaker here to help me out on that one. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller-san?).

    Anyhow, back to want. I think the issue is in no small part that the feeling you describe is a bit ambiguous. People have listed words like abjure and abhor, but I sense that you don’t like the connotations they have. So, it may well be that there really isn’t an opposite — an antonym– in the way you seek because the concept you’re describing is a bit fuzzy.

    Why do I think it’s fuzzy? Because you describe not-wanting, but I can’t get a handle on whether you mean not-wanting as in absence of desire for, or not wanting as in actively avoiding, or not wanting as in not consenting to, which in English are all different concepts (as they are in other languages too). And from your posts I sense that it is a bit fuzzy for you too.

    Not that an antonym isn’t possible, but the fact that there is not one (and I could be wrong, I just didn’t see anything in the syn/ant markers in my books) would lead me to believe that it’s not a concept that many common European languages have, or at least,don’t express in the way you, well, want. :-)

    I would bet that in some more obscure / less common tongues there might be one. Zulu? Diné? You mentioned nolle works, but Latin isn’t a living language and it means something more like refusal I think ??

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