The term "the moderns" refers to people who live in the present. Any words opposite to it?

  • Not a phrase I recognise - can you expand on it - where it's from, a reference? Just for interest, really. However, the literal antonym would be "the ancients", which is a recognised term, but I'd like to check that it's a valid opposite in this context. – Prof Yaffle May 24 '16 at 10:03
  • According to the website of Etymonline, modern (n.): 1580s, "person of the present time" (contrasted to ancient. But now is no longer 1580s, so perhaps there are other suitable words? – gftern May 24 '16 at 10:44

Oxford online does indeed have a noun definition of modern in this sense:

(Usually moderns) A person who advocates or practises a departure from traditional styles or values

... although it's hardly a common term, and people would look at you odd if you referred to the moderns in everyday speech. I think most commentators would now probably use contemporary instead:

Belonging to or occurring in the present

... although it would be used as an adjective - contemporary art and not contemporaries, as the latter use implies the "at the same time as..." definition. Of course, you could also simply stick to modern as an adjective - modern people.

Anyway, that aside, the strict opposite of moderns in this sense would be ancients:

The people of ancient times, especially the Greeks and Romans of classical antiquity

... although you have synonyms such as ancestors, forebears and similar (discussion on ELU here).

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  • Thanks for your reply. Many people are not contemporaries, like Gandhi, Newton or Confucious. Are they all ancients who lived in ancient times? – gftern May 24 '16 at 13:02
  • I think you ultimately need the context before anything makes sense. If you're talking about "modern humans", you're really meaning "anything in the last 30,000 years" from a biological sense; conversely, "modern smartphones" are only a couple of years old. So I don't know that there's really a catch-all single word that covers folks like those you name without that backdrop (e.g. Renaissance and Enlightenment when referring to Newton; pre-Christian or even Spring and Autumn period when talking about Confucious). – Prof Yaffle May 24 '16 at 14:08
  • I asked a question like this only because my native language did have some terms (2-3 syllables) to respectively refer to people before the time of using fire, before written record, living under Feudalism, living several generation ago, active within about a century, and being in the same generation, although in all those cases adjectives could still be added to make description more regional and time-specific. – gftern May 24 '16 at 16:05
  • Anyway, now I understand why English users didn't find this a question. I hope you know that not many English dictionaries put "anything in the last 30,000 years" into the modern term, and "Renaissance," "Enlightenment," "pre-Christian" and "Spring and Autumn period" are somehow culture-based, which might not be that conversational under an international base, but I'm contented with your generous replies and feel happy that I now know a little bit more about English. Thank you. – gftern May 24 '16 at 16:05

In logical sense there can not be any opposite to living at present time because there are two possibilities that gives maximum ambiguity. Ancient time and future time.

An odd part about opposites in English language is the lack of such for "ambiguity". You can't say it without negation. It makes sense though consider the fact English language is the most ambiguous of all languages of a certain size. That's why it makes English so painful to learn for they who have grown up with a more reasonable language. Yes, there are many languages much harder to learn, but at least they don't hurt you mentally. Specially English phonetics vs orthography hurts a reasonable person a lot. It wouldn't hurt me if English was trashed once and for all.

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  • You are right that the future time counds. Maybe I should make a different question. – gftern May 24 '16 at 13:03
  • I'll give you an upvote for making me think about the future, and how you can thus not have an opposite to a point that's on an eternal continuum... – Prof Yaffle May 24 '16 at 14:09

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