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It seems rather odd that there is a verb for wanting something, but not for the opposite, as it means we always have to phrase things in terms of wanting.

For instance there's an opposite of having with lacking, finding with losing and creating with destroying, but why not with wanting?

When I say "I don't want to go there" I may want it to be understood that either I have no desire to go there but also don't have a desire to not go there; it's not something I'm too bothered about or that I desire to not go there, but it's ambiguous. You can obviously tell in the context, but it'd be useful to have a verb that doesn't rely on context and I can't think of one.

I've considered eschew and refuse, but they're not suitable.

Can anyone tell me?

EDIT: Just to clarify, I'm looking for a word that only means the exact opposite of wanting. I'm not looking for a word that means both indifferent and to not want. I want a word that specifically means to not want something, but stronger than just saying

I don't want

As this is ambiguous as it also refers to a state of indifference.

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    It wouldn't seem odd to me if such a verb turns out not to exist, considering that there are a lot of opposites that don't have single words (and a lot of other concepts as well). There is no opposite verb that I know of for "exist," "think," or "fear." There is no single verb I know of for "to feel ashamed." – herisson Mar 30 '16 at 16:37
  • @sumelic I was about to point out that this is the norm (lack of verb to express lack of rather than opposite end of spectrum where there is one, eg love ... not love ... hate), but you've done it. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 30 '16 at 19:39
  • Seems you are looking for word X, where the desirability spectrum goes from X -> indifferent -> want. In other words, a word that expresses the attitude of "not want" and specifically excludes the possibility of indifferent. If that is the case, perhaps avoid is the word you are seeking: avoid -> indifferent -> want. – amdn Mar 31 '16 at 7:29
  • The colloquial 'want shut of' is used to show that one has something that one wants to be rid of. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 5 '16 at 16:08
  • 'Want shut off' is definitely congruent with the intended meaning, but think that what sumelic says is probably true; that there is no single word that denotes 'to not want'. For words like exist, states which are binary, i can understand there lacking an opposite word, since the meaning of 'not exist' is unambiguous, whereas the meaning of 'not wanting' is context dependent. I'm sure there's something interesting and deeper in the roots of how we think that means there is no word for 'not wanting'. I just wanted to be sure that there definitely was no word. Thanks for your help. – Christs_Chin Apr 8 '16 at 9:41
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The underlying difference between wanting and your other possibilities is that the others, describing active operations, are clearly 2-valued. "Wanting", on the other hand, describes a mental state which can inhabit a continuum, ranging from desiring a thing or consequence, to rejecting a thing or consequence, with a neutral state being part of the continuum. The neutral state, or "don't-care" is an important possibility in any discussion of desire, so it should not be overlooked.

As a result, there is no particular reason to expect that a single word will encompass both the neutral and the negative. The simple negation ("I don't want") is generally adequate to express the lack of wanting, and if the exact form of not wanting is important, then the choices such as "I don't care" or "I really don't want" can be used.

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  • Thanks for the reply. I've edited the question to make what is required clearer. I'm not looking for a single word that will encompass both the neutral and the negative. I want a single word that only means the negative. I want it to explicitly exclude the state of passive indifference and communicate active aversion. – Christs_Chin Apr 8 '16 at 9:37
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I suggest indifference: lack of interest in or concern about something; an indifferent attitude or feeling.

In your example:

"I am indifferent about going there."

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  • Not to be nitpicky, but indifferent pairs with differentiate. Its function is to say "I see no difference between the choices". Which places indifferent as the neutral point between want therefore is the answer to 1 part of the question he's looking for. [Want]--[Indifferent]--[OppositeOfWant] – H.R.Rambler Mar 30 '16 at 12:59
  • Exactly H.R.Rambler. I'm looking for a word that denotes the opposite end of the spectrum of want specifically. I don't want 'indifferent', although it acts as further justification to the requirement to have a want-antonym, given that there exists the affirmative and neutral versions of 'wanting'. – Christs_Chin Mar 30 '16 at 13:45
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Interesting question. Thanks for causing me to think about this a little more deeply than I might have otherwise.

First some suggestions, based on my understanding of what you're after, followed by initial scaffolding for a philosophical-biological framework.

Ideas

I think these could be near-"pure" opposites that preserve the ambiguity you're after, but with different degrees of intensity and varying applicability depending on context:

  • decline, e.g. "I decline your offer"
  • avoid, e.g. "I avoid apples"
  • ignore, e.g. "I ignore the opportunity"
  • reject, e.g. "I reject your help"
  • abandon, e.g. "I abandon the car"
  • evade, e.g. "I evade confrontation"
  • dismiss, e.g. "I dismiss the feedback"
  • etc.

I suspect there is not a single word for "don't want" that works in every single context. Even if there were, you might still choose to pick from a menu of options to inject color and meaning for impact.

Initial scaffolding for a philosophical-biological approach

Exploration 1: rooted in the abstract

On the one hand, I see how we could map want/don't-want on a multi-dimensional geometry.

For example, reasonable dimensions could include:

  • specific <> non-specific
  • active <> passive
  • neutral <> motivated
  • etc.

If you deep dive into the "specific / non-specific" dimension, you could start categorizing the non-specific extreme end of the spectrum into:

  • the spiritual, eternal kind (egoless), and
  • not wanting things you don't even know about (more pedestrian :-)

I'll skip over the spiritual kind of not-wanting. For the other kind, one could argue that it is impractical to have a word for not wanting something that you don't even know about because "to want" presupposes there's something the observer could want (even if it is generic).

For example, if you don't know about something that one could want, then you technically "don't want" it, but it isn't an active choice. It doesn't seem practical to have a word for this case, since the list of what one doesn't want would be both infinite and expansive (across time and space).

Exploration 2: rooted in biology, evolution, and natural selection

What if "don't want" does not actually exist, which is why there is no word for it?

It seems to me that "wanting" drives the processes of survival. Whether or not the outcome is good (get food) or bad (addiction), "want" is what moves us to action (or inaction) every day.

When we say that we "don't want" something, another way to frame it is to see it as fork in the road between wanting:

a) that apple, the experience, that gratitude, OR b) to forego that apple, the experience, the gratitude

And you "want" either (a) or (b). But you always want.

I don't think (but am happy to be convinced otherwise) this is merely a linguistic or logical trick.

There is no word for "don't want" because our options are always driven by "want", as governed by biology.

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  • (1) I’m wondering what you mean by suggesting one dimension for active/passive and a separate dimension for severity (which you edited while I was writing this comment).  At first glance, it seems to me that this is one dimension — you can’t be severely indifferent.  What would a large value on the active/passive scale mean except to want strongly?  (On the other hand, my second thought was of the saturation and lightness / luminosity dimensions in the HSL color system, which made my believe that you might have a valid point.) … (Cont’d) – Scott Oct 12 '19 at 19:17
  • (Cont’d) …  (2) I’m rather baffled by your last section.  It seems to me that you are claiming that indifference and apathy don’t exist.  I disagree, and invite you to think of a more compelling argument. – Scott Oct 12 '19 at 19:17
  • Hi Scott, sorry for the concurrent edit. I don't think I'm implying that but maybe I'm wrong or not clear. I won't pretend expertise so venturing cautiously. One possible explanation for in the moment indifference could be that it is an expression of wanting simplicity, to conserve energy, wanting to give others the freedom to choose... Apathy, being a state of indifference with multitude possible causes, is more complicated. I wonder whether the way out is to think of "want" as ultimately more a function of biology than human agency and can be explicit or implicit. Not sure. Thoughts? – Jouborg Oct 12 '19 at 19:56
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The opposite pairing of wanting is loath.

But the word feels archaic (notice how easily the forms of want fit into a sentence, but the "am loath" usage is cumbersome); and it is so easily misconstrued with "loathe" which makes the step from simple "do not want" to hatred. With these obstacles to using loath, it is often just easier to add a word to negate wanting or to shift the lexical perspective into something like "inclined vs. disinclined".

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  • The question is asking for a verb and a single word. Isn't "loath" an adjective? To make it into a verb, you have to add more words, such as "be loath to." – herisson Mar 30 '16 at 16:39
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    @sumelic Still an adjective. The verb is loathe. And it's not the opposite of want. I don't want carrots for dinner, but I don't loathe them. – deadrat Mar 30 '16 at 18:33
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It sounds like you're looking for at least two verbs (maybe three); you need one that is the opposite of "want" on the continuum of desire (e.g. loathe) and other that is apathetic (sort of in the middle or off the continuum altogether), and maybe even another that is technically ambivalent (points scattered along the continuum).

I don't want (eschew) to waste more of your time on this non-response, but don't want (I sort of don't but, meh, it doesn't bother me and I need to so I will) to go back to work either.

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The problem you're having is that you're looking in the wrong direction for the semantic mirror of want as a verb.

The opposite of want in English is ... have.

From Etymonline

c. 1200, "to be lacking," from Old Norse vanta "to lack, want," earlier *wanaton, from Proto-Germanic *wanen, from PIE *weno-, suffixed form of root *eue- "to leave, abandon, give out." The meaning "desire, wish for, feel the need of" is recorded by 1706.

The notion of desiring or opting for something grew from the concept of the word want meaning lack thereof. Semantically, I want actually means I want for; put more plainly, I lack and therefore I feel a need for.

I want to give you a kiss.

I lack and therefore desire to (have) give(n) you a kiss.

I want fried chicken for dinner.

I lack and therefore would desire (fried chicken for dinner).

Ironically, when we tell our children the age old parental advice: wanting something is not the same as needing something..., we're actually lying to them.

It gets a bit dicey when you look at wanting something you already possess.

Do you want your fries?

Yes, I want them.

But, had someone never asked you the question, it would be strange to say:

I want my fries.


Side note: There is no direct mirror antonym for desire, either.

Desire derives from a meaning that also defies an antonym:

"to wish or long for, express a wish to obtain," c. 1200, desiren, from Old French desirrer (12c.) "wish, desire, long for," from Latin desiderare "long for, wish for; demand, expect," the original sense perhaps being "await what the stars will bring," from the phrase de sidere "from the stars," from sidus (genitive sideris) "heavenly body, star, constellation" (but see consider). Related: Desired; desiring.

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