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As Winston Churchill once said, A fanatic is someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.


The diminutive form, that of just being a fan, speaks of the same phenomenon but to a lesser degree.  And more importantly, we think of a fan as someone who has a positive and healthy interest, whereas fanatic is far more negative and conjures up notions that are generally dangerous to our sense of how we think things should be.


These two words are rivalnyms.  They essentially describe the same thing, but from two completely opposite emotional standpoints. Rivalnyms are pairs of words, like synonyms and antonyms.  Rivalnyms share much the same definition, in that both words refer to the same phenomenon, like synonyms, but they have opposing emotional signatures attached to them, somewhat like antonyms.


This pair, that of Fan & Fanatic


form one of the best rivalnym pairs because they can convey opposite feelings when in fact they are pretty much the same word, since the word fan is simply a diminutive form of fanatic that’s been merely shortened; nothing could be more emblematic of the strange fact that our perspective is mostly determined by our emotional response as opposed to our thoughtful treatment of any given subject. 


Our language is laced with rivalnyms that allow us to describe events in opposing ways.  Language appears to be built in this way because people have different emotional responses to the same things.


An event that makes one person nervous makes another person excited.  Nervous and excited form rivalnyms in this case, eye-rollingly appropriate too, considering each refers to the other.


This split in language that we can identify with rivalnyms seems to indicate something perhaps fundamental about the way our emotional composure can be geared towards receiving the experiences of life.  While that’s a larger subject to be unpacked at another time, Rivalnyms do, in the meantime provide a clue about our own composure and how to change it if we so want.  Being aware of rivalnyms in your own language can become a sort of mindful practice, akin to that of a detective, but when the subject is one’s own self. 


For example, when we hear ourselves say that we are lonely.  This is a negatively tinted description of the state of being alone.  As opposed to focusing on the state of being lonely, we can re-describe the situation with a positive tint.  We can ask:


How can I enjoy this gift of solitude?




Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 656: Rivalnym Case Study: Fanatical Fan

Tinkered Thinking

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