Q&A: Anti vs ante

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we’re upping the ante…

Q: Hi AWC, I want to talk to you about the phrase “up the anti” – does this mean to increase your efforts to oppose something?

A: Not at all. It’s actually “up the ante” – with an E, not an I.

Q: Like as in the start of the word “antelope”?

A: Yes.

Q: Hey, what do you call an ant that runs away and gets married without telling anyone?

A: We’d call them highly selfish. People love attending weddings.

Q: Oh okay, yep. Anyway, let’s discuss this anti vs ante thing some more.

A: Sure. So, as you have already established, “anti” is typically a prefix placed in front of something to indicate opposition.

Q: Examples?

A: Anticlimax.

Q: Oh. I was expecting more…

A: Antisocial.

Q: Whatever.

A: Antithesis.

Q: I think I did one of those at university.

A: Antiseptic. Antibiotics…

Q: Okay, I get it. But what about “antidote” – that doesn’t mean not doting on someone. And if I eat “antipasto” am I against pasto?

A: Well, for starters, “anti” in Italian means “before”, so “antipasto” translates as “before food” – or before the main course.

Q: Haha, “for starters”, I get it.

A: As for “antidote” – it’s still against something, in this case “dote” comes from the Greek “dotos” for “given” – so an antidote is given against something.

Q: So, to recap, “anti–” is a prefix, not an actual word.

A: Well, it does also get used these days informally as a preposition, when someone may say “I’m anti the new development”. Obviously, the meaning of being opposed to something is the same.

Q: Okay, so what about “ante”? Isn’t that written on a poker table somewhere?

A: That’s exactly right. “Ante” is an actual word – and curiously comes from Latin for “before” – just like the Italian “anti” did in “antipasto”. It can be a noun – being an opening stake you place down before the start of a poker hand, or similar game. In the US especially, it is also be a verb – to “ante up” in a game.

Q: So its meaning is confined to poker?

A: Well yes. Until you get a idiomatic phrase like “up the ante” – which means to increase the demands or risks to obtain better results. This can be to increase your opening stake in poker, but not always.

Q: Example?

A: A government may “up the ante” in negotiations. Or a Bond villain might “up the ante” by adding lasers and mini-chainsaws to the sharks swimming in the vat.

Q: As long as he first tells 007 his entire evil plan.

A: Yes, exactly.

Q: Right, well thanks for supplying the antidote to my ignorance on this subject. I’m off to convince some friends to abandon their pasto protest. Could be tricky – they had made placards and everything.

A: Just take them some meats and olives and cheeses. They’ll be fine…

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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