I was wandering around the internet a while back and I had a weird urge to look up the antonyms of the word ‘productive’. Here’s what I found…
What is up with these antonyms???
It’s no wonder we’re all obsessed with being productive! You get labelled as a worthless human being if you’re not!
When I saw these search results, the first thing I felt was that these antonyms are so negative and intense. Why did the word ‘barren’ make the list as an antonym to productive?
The definition of ‘barren’ that best fits this context:
Barren: “meagre, unprofitable” (Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd ed.)
Well, that settles that. Being unproductive is the same as being meagre, or “lacking in amount or quality.” (That’s the Canadian Oxford Dictionary again.)
Why are those words with such negative connotations listed as antonyms to productive? Why can’t we just stick to the mellow ones: idle, inactive, unproductive.
Those antonyms seem a little kinder and less judgy, don’t they?
More definitions from the Canadian Oxford Dictionary:
Idle: “not working, doing nothing”
Idle: “lazy, indolent, having a dislike for work or activity”
So now I’m thinking to myself language has meaning not just because of a shared definition of a word, but also because of a shared social context of a word.
For example, ‘lazy’ doesn’t just mean “disinclined to work, doing little work,” (COD) it’s also a synonym to ‘slothful,’ which is one of the seven deadly sins in Christianity, so it has major negative connotations in western culture.
So if the word ‘lazy’ has negative connotations, if you put that word into the definition of ‘idle’ (see above), you’re likely going to think of idleness as a negative quality.
And if the word ‘idle’ with all its negative connotations is an antonym of ‘productive,’ that must mean productivity only has positive connotations, right?
So why am I going on a weird dictionary war path on the word productive? Because I just can’t get on board with the fact that productivity is the only way to live your best life and that idleness is seen as a bad thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely have a course on productivity saved on my Skill Share account. But I also remember how it felt to burn out when productivity was the only priority in my life and idleness never got a chance to step into the spotlight. In short, it was me at my unhealthiest.
It bugs me when I see things like hardcore antonyms telling me that productivity is good and idleness (AKA relaxation, rest, recuperation) is bad. It’s not that one is good and one is bad. Both productivity and idleness are good in the right dosage, and they can both be bad when there is too much of one or the other.
I think I’m just going to have to make up my own antonyms for ‘productive’ that have more positive connotations: restful, relaxing.
In conclusion, balance is everything, our society is biased toward productivity, and I’m a huge nerd (I just wrote an entire blog post on antonyms and dictionary definitions!).
I’d love to hear your thoughts on productivity! Comment below!
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Thanks for reading,