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We have the word impliable meaning the opposite of pliable, but there is no dictionary opposite of pliant. (Shorter OED, Apple Dictionary on Mac, dictionary.reference.com, www.merriam‑webster.com)

Could impliant be acceptable under certain circumstances, such as in a literary or poetic context?

Note: according to this question, pliant and pliable are synonyms.


My online searching would have been more successful, if I'd realised that I'd been redirected to define implant, and that there was a subtle link to actually search for define impliant.

Having said that, I still wouldn't have found unpliant as a plausible answer.

  • Poetic license gives one fair broad freedoms. Beware that that you don't use this word in a context where it could be misread or confused with "implant" on a quick scan or casual reading. – Dan Bron Feb 19 '15 at 12:42
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    While there are plenty of uses of impliant to be found in Google Books the more common word is unpliant . collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/unpliant – Frank Feb 19 '15 at 12:58
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    I don't really get the two downvotes (and three close votes either). unpliant is not really a common word but it is better documented than impliant and yet it doesn't appear in the half-dozen thesaurus type sites I just checked as an antonym for pliant. Maybe your question just seems too simple on the outside. – Frank Feb 19 '15 at 13:40
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    Will do, but it'll be tomorrow. – Frank Feb 19 '15 at 17:13
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    In normal speech/writing I would tend to use "rigid". In poetry use whatever you want. – Hot Licks Feb 20 '15 at 13:34
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After writing up and posting everything below the double lines, I found this.

Langenscheidt's Thesaurus entry for Pliant

From Langensheidt's Pocket Merriam-Webster, Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms, 1998 Google Books (snippet)



[OED]Pliant
1. Bending; capable of being bent or folded with ease; supple, lithe, flexible
from the 14th century onward

Antonyms of pliant from Thesaurus.com, Merriam-Webster.com, Synonyms.com and a number of other common thesaurus sites offered:

stiff, rigid, inflexible, intractable, unadaptable and a few others.

Not one of the common thesaurus sites offered the most obvious antonym of pliant which is unpliant

[OED]Unpliant
1 Not bending readily or easily; stiff.
from the 17th century onward

The un- prefix expresses negation, but so does the im- prefix, particularly before the letters b, m and p and there's no doubt that pliant starts with p.
So why is impliant not in any dictionaries (apart from Burton's Legal Thesaurus 4th Ed. which only mentions it as a synonym of unyielding but in the 5th Ed. it gets it's own mention with unyielding as it's synonym)?
It's hard to tell really, there's plenty of usage for impliant to be found in Google Books (mostly 18th century but some modern ones too).

London Magazine, Vol.24, 1755 in a section about 'Observations on grafting' Google Books
...either in the wood already formed, and which then ceases to be supple, or in the gross bark, which is altogether as impliant as the wood.

Lectures to working men, Rev. Arthur Mursell, 1859 Google Books
The stubborn clay which was tough and impliant in the woman's hands, may be moulded at pleasure by the fingers of the child.

The John Dewey Society Lectureship Series, v5, 1962 Google Books (snippet)
... sculptors who left even upon such impliant clay as mine the delicate chiseling of refined genius, ...

Cruise Control, Victoria Jenkins, 2002 Google Books (snippet)
A couple of glasses of late harvest chardonnay to help dissolve the unacceptable impliant crust of the banana-peach tart ...

While I was looking for these uses of impliant one thing became quite clear, impliant appears in a number of French-to-English dictionaries so perhaps it was always thought of as a French word that was trying to become assimilated into English but never quite made it, because we already have unpliant. I am genuinely surprised, given the number of uses impliant has had in the last half millenium that it's not listed in the OED at all, not even as erroneous or rare.

All in all, impliant is a perfectly good word that obviously means not pliant, however the more common term is unpliant. The surprising thing about unpliant is that I have not found a single reference that mentions it as an antonym of pliant.

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    You should send the citations to the OED and ask that they include impliant. They have both impliable and unpliant, so they should have both impliant and unpliant as well. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 20 '15 at 10:55
  • This is just an awesome++ answer! Far more knowledge and research than I was expecting! – Stewart Feb 20 '15 at 13:23
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Done. – Frank Feb 22 '15 at 10:53
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In legal speak, impliant: unyielding, inflexible see, the Free Dictionary.

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    +1 The usually preferred approach is to provide a link to the online dictionary. – bib Feb 19 '15 at 12:57
  • Is there some english.stackexchange etiquette I've missed here? Several dictionaries are available online. I'm not sure which one would be "the" one. – Stewart Feb 19 '15 at 13:13
  • Hi, Stewart, I'm rather a newcomer myself, but any question that can be answered by a quick google is usually closed as GR or general reference, which is how I found the answer I submitted. I, too, was unfamiliar with the word. You did nothing wrong. :-) – user98990 Feb 19 '15 at 13:18
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    @Josh61 - Er, sorry, you're saying that Frank's comment shows I should have been able to look up the knowledge he imparted by myself? I disagree. I don't see that connection at all. – Stewart Feb 19 '15 at 14:05
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    @Stewart Suggest it on ELU Meta. – bib Feb 19 '15 at 14:14

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