A part of my brain says, this is a flavor, how can an opposite exist?

On the other hand my other part of brain says, if opposites can exist for feelings why not for flavors?


Opposites are determined by context. The opposite of man can be woman, boy, robot, god, alien, teenager, tsar, plant, animal — even though a man is an animal.

Likewise, "the" opposite for sweet can be bitter, or sour, or hideous, or you name it.

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    That is a good answer...but what if the context is flavor? – Hawk Feb 14 '14 at 13:53
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    If the context is flavor, that is still too broad a context, as there are more than two flavors. As I said, bitter and sour are both candidates, and so is salty, and so is umami. – RegDwigнt Feb 14 '14 at 13:54
  • @hawk generally Bitter or Sour... Depending largely on who you ask. – LessPop_MoreFizz Feb 14 '14 at 13:55
  • @RegDwigнt So,actually what you mean is that the antonyms we used to learn in our childhood are actually baseless unless there is any context? – Hawk Feb 14 '14 at 14:29
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    The opposite of a sweet disposition is a surly one — surely. :) – tchrist Feb 14 '14 at 15:24

If you were to ask most English speakers, they would suggest 'sour' or 'bitter' as the opposite of sweet. I would speculate that this is because while sweetness is usually something which appeals to many people, sourness or bitterness are very much acquired tastes (and can even indicate that something is not fit to eat).

The word bittersweet indicates the tension between 'bitterness' and 'sweetness', and similarly means an intense feeling in which two opposite feelings, such as happiness and regret, are both present. So if one were to choose a single opposite to sweetness, bitterness may idiomatically be the safest choice.

However, in reality, the opposite to sweetness is, as RegDwigнt indicates, dependent on context, even if you restrict yourself to food and drink.

  • In fruit, the opposite of sweet is usually sour.
  • In chocolate, the opposite of sweet is bitter.
  • In snack-food (e.g. popcorn, nuts, etc.), the opposite of sweet is salty, or savoury.
  • In wine, the opposite of sweet is dry.
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  • If I could downvote, I would downvote this answer, as this answer does not provide any extra context but just agrees to the answer given by @RegDwigнt – Hawk Feb 14 '14 at 14:10
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    @Hawk: why? It indicates that multiple "literal" opposites that are present even in talking about flavour, just as you ask; and indicates a reason to prefer bitterness idiomatically. – Niel de Beaudrap Feb 14 '14 at 14:11
  • When there is no context to prefer any choice...how can one prefer bitterness? However the literal opposites you said is not that much of a secret to many people...but thanks anyways...you tried to contribute...do not take my criticism personally – Hawk Feb 14 '14 at 14:14
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    +1 for adding examples of different contexts that would yield different choices for opposites. – Roger Feb 14 '14 at 14:21
  • @Hawk: If there is no context to prefer a literal choice, one chooses according to assumed context. For example, if I asked you the opposite of "hot", you might say "cold", and for good reason; despite the fact that there are contexts in which "slow" (for jazz) or "unsexy" (for physical aesthetics) are valid antonyms. All language is an association game: there is always a context, if only a vague cultural one. My suggestion of bitterness is on the basis of cultural referents; if you demanded more, perhaps you intended to ask the question on Philosophy.SE. – Niel de Beaudrap Feb 14 '14 at 14:23

@Hawk - in the classical liberal arts tradition, there is a distinction made between contraries and contradictories.

Black and white / sweet and sour are contraries.
They refer to species within the same genus (black and white are both colours), or species in contrary genera (truthfulness is a species of virtue; falsity a species of vice).

Genera do not have contraries - there is no contrary for flower, and flavour (your example) if taken as a genus, would not have a contrary.
If taken as a species of sense data, then flavoursome and tasteless would be contraries.

Black and non-black / flavour and non-flavour are contradictories.

If you're interested in pursuing this further, see Sister Miriam Joseph's The Trivium (2002), pp 76-77.

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