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February 7th, 2020



If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a Rivalnym, it is something developed by Tinkered Thinking to address a certain class of words and concepts that fall in a strange place between Synonyms and Antonyms.  A rivalnym is a word, or rather, a pair of words that are somewhat synonymous in literal meaning, but opposite in terms of the emotional valence we ascribe to the thing being described.



A pair of words that makes a good example is Nervous and Excited



One is generally positive, that is, excited, and nervous is generally more negatively valence, and yet, what registers our excitement?  Our nerves.  And when we are nervous, is it not because our nerves are in an excited state?


Another pair of words that form an exceptional Rivalnym pair are: Influence and Manipulation.



Both words can be defined as an instance of having an impact on the way another person thinks, feels and behaves.


Influence is generally regarded as positive or neutral, as in that friend is a good influence or a bad influence.


But the word manipulative is wholly negative.  The idea of positive manipulation simply doesn’t spin well in the mind of the English speaker.


And yet it describes much the same thing as influence.  To manipulate someone is to have an impact on that person in a specific and targeted way.  The difference is that such manipulation is taken up for selfish gain on the part of the manipulator, whereas someone looking to have an influence is more likely to be doing this for altruistic aims.  Or rather, the manipulator is playing a zero-sum game where they win, and the influencer is looking to play a non-zero-sum game where everyone wins simply by playing.


It’s of further fascination that the word influence has given rise to the somewhat new word influencer, as in someone with a lot of pull, usually through social media platforms. 


The territory with influencer gets sticky, because it becomes harder to figure out what sort of game these people are playing.  Is it just a means to gain?  Or is there a form of the non-zero-sum game that can be played?


The answer to this question has perhaps yet to be realized, but there are certainly those out in the social spheres that would be more aptly labeled as manipulators as opposed to the more magnanimously sounding influencers.


But time will tell.


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