Inhibition

OK, so as per yesterday, inhibition isn’t really the opposite of exhibition. Of course there’s still a basic relationship of contrast between the two.

Both effectively mean to hold in/out, but with a slight difference in context. Exhibition is generally used quite literally, referring to actualy objects or signs we can actually see on display. Like an art exhibition.

Inhibition though, is a little more abstract. When it first entered the English language in the 14th century, it was similar to prohibition, usually used in a legal sense to refer to a formal restriction. It gained its now common psychological meaning in the 19th century.

There’s nothing particular to the word inhibition to make us use it in a psychological sense, compared to the more literal, everyday ways we use exhibition. Both developed logically (and still represent basically opposing concepts), but just came to be used in slightly different ways. It’s a nice example of how words evolve. There’s the logic of putting the basic different meanings of two different roots together (ex/in + hibit) to create a new concept. But then there’s the fact that we invest words with specific meanings based on a variety of external factors, to fill a niche, or simply with no real logic at all.

It’s OK if you’re a native speaker, but these are the kinds of things that are confusing when you’re learning a language, and might think it’s fair to assume that two words that have opposing prefixes have directly opposing meanings.

Still, at least it’s not as confusing as flammable/inflammable!

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