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In a recent question, an antonym for waning was requested. Waxing was naturally suggested, but the OP declined the word because he was actually looking for a word meaning non-waning, and thought that "antonym" was the word to describe his request.

The difference is: waxing means getting stronger/more intense and non-waning, if it were a word, would mean unchanging (not getting either stronger or weaker).

What is the difference between the words actually called, if not antonymous?

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A better way to express the intended relationship is "waning" and "non-waning". "Un-" often has the sense of "reversal" (dictionary.com says 'un-' is "a prefix freely used in English to form verbs expressing a reversal of some action or state" (2nd definition)), while "Non-" is almost exclusively for negation. –  Hellion Jul 25 '11 at 17:42
@Hellion: You are right, and I edited –  Daniel Jul 25 '11 at 17:45
@Hellion: Oh, heh. Yeah, I mistook un- as reversal, obviously, for my answer. –  MrHen Jul 25 '11 at 17:54
@MrHen: Sorry for the confusion. –  Daniel Jul 25 '11 at 17:59
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

A few options here would be reciprocal:

Mathematics (of a quantity or function) related to another so that their product is one

This isn't quite as translatable into normal usage because the standard use of reciprocal means something more akin to equal or mutual.

Another option is reversal:

a change to an opposite direction, position, or course of action

While the opposite of wane is wax, the reversal of wane would be an un-wane. The subtle difference here is key:

The opposite of scoring a goal is not scoring a goal.

The reversal of scoring a goal is to take back the goal.

Hitting up a thesaurus then provides these alternatives:

  • undoing
  • countering
  • overriding
  • revocation
  • repeal

And so on. Many words do not have appropriate reversals or antonyms and sometimes the same word can work for both.

In response to the edit, non- adds a third option to the pool which means "Not in the state of." This could be seen as an absence or negation. Much like how reversal and opposite can both apply, absence can fit into the same word as well:

This is hot; that is cold.

Hot is the opposite of cold; cold is also the absence of heat.

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But there's no grammatical term? –  Daniel Jul 25 '11 at 17:42
You seem to contradict yourself when you first say reversal is "a change to an opposite direction", then that the reversal of wane [is] un-wane. If the opposite/reverse distinction applies, then per OP and your "score a goal" it follows that wax is the reversal, and un-wane is the opposite (i.e. - not waning, not changing phase at all). –  FumbleFingers Jul 25 '11 at 17:43
@drm: I don't understand. What do you mean by grammatical term? You didn't mention anything like that in your question. If I understand correctly, both opposites and reversals would qualify as antonyms. –  MrHen Jul 25 '11 at 17:43
I mean no word on the level of synonym, antonym, etc. –  Daniel Jul 25 '11 at 17:46
@drm65: There won't be a "grammatical term" clarifying which "kind" of "opposite" is involved in any particular case, because there are so many different kinds in the first place. Which is one reason why I don't think EL&U should have too many questions about synonyms and antonyms. They are interpretive mental constructs, not real-world facts reflected by language. –  FumbleFingers Jul 25 '11 at 17:47
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It's all to do with vagueness about the exact meaning of negation, opposite, etc. Necessary vagueness, because the world itself isn't black and white, so it's not always obvious how to apply 'disembodied' logic.

In the case of unwaning, as OP says, if it existed, the word would presumably mean not waning (i.e. – exactly the same as unwaxing, if we postulate such a word and sense).

The reason for this is simply that when we imagine the sense of unwaning we're likely to consider it within the context of a continuous oscillating activity, where negation invokes the idea of that activity not occurring at all.

The alternative, obviously, is to consider waning as one part of the two-phase process, giving waxing as the other.

This particular example covers just one of an almost infinite number of different ways things can be considered 'opposite'. Take loved, for example. Most people's first suggestion for an 'opposite' is probably 'hated'. It might take a while to realise that from a different standpoint, unloved is a more precise negation.

TL;DR: There are many different kinds of 'opposite'. The two in OP's example are perhaps the most common; reversal and absence (per @Hellion's comment, often indicated by un- and non-).

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"Unwaning" could either mean, "Not waning" or "Undoing waning." Since the word doesn't actually exist, it is ambiguous. –  MrHen Jul 25 '11 at 17:51
Since, as you say, the word doesn't exist, it seems only reasonable that if we're going to reference it at all here, we should go with the meaning assigned to it by OP. –  FumbleFingers Jul 25 '11 at 18:31
You can do whatever you want. I am not blaming anyone for the ambiguity; I was just pointing out that it exists. –  MrHen Jul 25 '11 at 18:36
Interesting that you should have brought up love: unwaning love is a phrase I would almost expect to see coined in poetry on multiple occasions, even if it doesn't reach the sort of usage that would get unwaning into a dictionary. It is a good formation, and certainly shorter and more euphonic than undiminishing. –  bye Jul 26 '11 at 2:22
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