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”?
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: Oh. I was expecting more…
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.
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!