Creation through omission is an interesting concept. In languages there exist lexical gaps or lexical lacunae; words that should logically exist but somehow don’t. Most of these gaps are antonyms or gender-related omissions caused by a language without gendered nouns (unlike French, German, Spanish, etc.). They are hard to find because they are linguistic holes. It’s like looking for a prize in a gigantic cereal boxor…is there a word for that?
Here are 5 lexical gaps that will have you puzzled all day!
5. Missing Mortality
Our first example illustrates how lexical gaps are often antonyms. English has a word for a child who has lost their parents: an orphan. But what do we call a parent who has lost a child? There simply isn’t a word for it! You can describe what someone with the adjective “childless,” but when tasked to come up with a precise nounan actual counterpart to “orphan” one word simply doesn’t exist.
4/3. A Family Affair
These lexical gaps take the form of a category issue. When referring to the people who are responsible for your birth, you call them “parents.” And the other children, born of the same parents, are “siblings.” But what do you call the category of person who are siblings to your parents? True, individually they are aunts and uncles, but what is this type of person called. The same can be applied for the children of your siblings. On their own they are nieces and nephews, but what do we call their group? It’s easier with an analogy:
Mother and father : parents :: aunt and uncle : _____
Brother and sister : siblings :: niece and nephew : _____
2. A Chaste Place
Not to come off as unrefined, but this is probably the best known lexical gap. One who has not had sexual intercourse is called a virgin, but what do we call someone who has. “Non-virgin” seems to be the best answer, but is merely a negation of the word. And also, it’s not in the dictionary.
1. A Man In A Bad Situation
Our final example illustrates the limitations of the English language. While there are many languages that assign gender to their nouns, English leaves its noun genderless, which can create lexical gaps very easily. A woman, who involves herself in an extra-marital affair is called a “mistress,” but what do you call a man having an affair with somebody’s spouse? Our first inclination is to call him a “mister,” but “mister” has an entirely different definition. Unlike other words with multiple meanings, “mister” strangely does not include both meanings, boring (a word with two definitions) a strange hole in the language, leaving a blank space in our vocabulary.
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We will never fully know the reason why these words don’t exist. Sometimes we simply don’t need them; sometimes they were just never created. But we can do something about it! We can become linguistic archaeologists and dig up these missing words for further study or we can make up our own words to fill in the gaps.