7 Words With Surprising Synonyms

The English language never ceases to surprise us. There are all kinds of fascinating connections between words we regularly use in our everyday life. Like autoantonyms: they are their own opposites?  For example, clip is an autoantonym because it can mean both “to  fasten” and “to cut apart.” Wild.

WATCH: Words That Are Their Own Opposites

But back to this article … where we are particularly interested in synonyms that reveal strange connections between seemingly different words. A synonym is a word that has the same or a similar meaning as another word. For example, smart and brainy are synonyms. While it makes sense that someone with a lot of brains (brainy) would also be considered smart, not all synonyms are so intuitive. Especially when slang or informal language is used, there are sets of synonyms that seem, well, surprising.

Many and mad

There aren’t many pocket-sized synonyms for many. You can have loads of shoes, or heaps of shoes, or a multitude of shoes. But none of these synonyms are as satisfying as mad. Don’t get angry, hear us out.

In Black American slang, mad (sometimes spelled madd) means “lots of,” making it a synonym for many. It’s not exactly clear where the expression comes from. It’s possible it’s a riff on the use of mad as an intensifier (similar to “very”). At any rate, we’ve got mad surprising synonyms for you to learn (besides this one).

Good and bad

We usually think of good and bad as opposites. Good is the angel on your shoulder and bad is the devil. But it really depends on your perspective.

After all, if you’re a talented outlaw, you’re very, very bad—which other outlaws will see as good because you’re sticking it to the man. That’s the origin of bad as a synonym for good, a use of the word that dates back to 1789, according to Green’s Dictionary of Slang.

Today, bad as a synonym for good is especially related to Black American slang (although it sounds a little dated in 2019).

If you’re the best outlaw of all time, you’re the baddest—and that’s how you get Master Gee boasting in the 1979 classic “Rapper’s Delight,” “I’m going down in history as the baddest rapper there ever could be.”

Maybe not, but we appreciate the word choice.

Great and wicked

The next notch up from good is great. Turn up the dial on bad and you get wicked. And that’s how we get great and wicked as synonyms.

Although, today, the use of wicked to mean “great” is associated with grunge-era teenagers, there’s evidence of it being used this way since 1842. It even appears in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise (1920), according to the Oxford English Dictionary. So wicked.

Of course, wicked is also used for emphasis in the greater Boston area, sort of like saying “very.” We don’t have a fun story for why this is a thing, but we think it’s wicked great.

Hot and cool

Like good and bad, hot and cool are generally taken to be opposites. Soup is hot, ice cream is cool. You get the idea.

But hot and cool can actually be synonyms, too. Especially if we’re talking about sartorial choices, stuff that’s trending, and otherwise up-to-the-minute cultural stuff.Cool can be used to describe someone or something as generally fashionable, stylish, and chic. It’s hip, it’s happening. You might even say it’s … hot. That’s because hot also is used to describe something appealing and popular. So, while hot and cool might seem like they exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, they come together when we’re talking about what’s trending.

Funky and fashionable

Speaking of cool fashion choices, you might be offended if someone calls your sweet new leopard-print sneakers funky. Generally speaking, funky is often defined as something that a) smells bad or b) is weird (and not in a good way). But don’t get too annoyed. It’s possible the would-be complimenter is calling your sneakers fashionable.

Using the word funky as a synonym for fashionable dates back to at least 1968 and is still used today. Usually, something that is fashionable in a funky way has a surprising or unexpected element, like the unusual leopard print on your sneakers.

Straight and square

These days, straight is usually used to describe someone who is heterosexual. But back in the day (meaning the early 1900s), straight was used to describe someone who wasn’t a criminal but was a respectable person. You still hear a version of this usage these days when people talk about abstaining from drugs and alcohol (e.g., He’s straight-edge).

Anyway, it’s this meaning of straight that makes it a synonym for square. That’s because in 1800s slang, square was a word used to describe someone who was … honest and respectable.

Down with and up for

In keeping with the theme of words that seem like they should be opposites but are, in fact, synonyms, we bring you the phrases down with and up for. Down and up are usually opposing directions, but not when it comes to these slang expressions.

If you’re down with something, that also means you’re up for it. In other words, you’re open to whatever is being proposed. For example, if your friend asked you if you’re down with going on a roller coaster, you could say “You know my need for speed. Of course I’m up for it.” We admire your bravery.

If you’re up for more fun with synonyms, you can check out Thesaurus.com, where all kinds of further surprises await. Are you down with that?

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