Surprising Opposites for Words You Use Every Day

2 min read

Latin prefixes such as “un-,” “in-,” “dis-,” “contra-,” “post-,” and “pro” can make it simple to find the opposite of many words. “Fortunate” turns into “unfortunate” and “complete” becomes “incomplete.” Prepositions are also used to construct antonyms — think of “overwhelm” and “underwhelm.” Sometimes finding the right word to describe a situation isn’t so easy. We gathered some surprising word opposites that you might never have guessed.


Calligraphy commonly refers to a specific style of decorative penmanship, but it can also mean beautiful writing of any kind. It comes from the Greek words kallos (beauty) and graphein (write). But what if a note is written in chicken scratch? That would be “cacography.” The word “cacography” literally means the opposite of beautiful handwriting (kakos is the Greek word for “bad”), but it can also refer to a word or phrase that is intentionally misspelled for comedic effect. Think of when a “z” replaces an “s” (like feelz).


If you’ve ever heard a group of instruments playing out of sync, or have stepped onto a packed subway car full of discordant sounds, that’s a “cacophony” (pronounced ka-KOF-oh-nee). But what about soothing, or melodious sounds?

While the instinct to reach for the word “symphony” is understandable, the more accurate word is “euphony,” which refers to a sound that “is pleasing to the ear.” Some words and phrases can be euphonic. The phrase “cellar door” is considered one of the most euphonic phrases, according to literary great J.R.R. Tolkein.


It’s most common to have a dominant hand — right or left. The ability to use both hands equally well is called “ambidextrous,” in which one can write, eat, or throw a baseball with both hands. But why should they be the only ones with a fancy descriptor? The unfortunate folks who are equally bad with both hands are “ambilevous.” Pull out this adjective for your favorite butterfingers.


The opposite of “buckle” is … “buckle”? Heteronyms are words that have the same spelling but different meanings. When the two words are opposites, they’re called “contranyms” or “Janus words.” “Buckle” is a great example. It can mean “to close or tighten” something, but it can also mean “to collapse upon itself.”

Example: Buckle up!

Example: The shelving buckled under its own weight.


The “placebo effect” occurs when a person feels better because they believe a certain remedy will help, even if there’s no scientific reason why they should feel better. It’s commonly seen in medical trials, where patients are given a treatment without knowing if they are receiving the real medication or an inactive substance, the “placebo.”

While “placebo” is often used to describe feeling any results, there is a real word that serves as the opposite. The “nocebo effect” is when a medication is expected to have negative side effects, and so the patient produces those feelings without knowing if they are actually taking the medication. The word “nocebo” comes from Latin, meaning “I shall harm.” Contrast that with placebo, which means “I shall please.”

Featured image credit: Blue Planet Studio/ iStock

You Might Also Like:

Chat bubbles backgroundDaily QuestionWhat is a synonym for an “artificer”?

Start defining your knowledge

Get daily words and quizzes sent straight to your inbox!

By subscribing to Word Genius you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.