: agonistic \ag-uh-NISS-tik\ adjective

AGONIST (Photo credit: Allie’s.Dad)

1 : argumentative 2 : striving for effect : strained 3 : of, relating to, or being aggressive or defensive social interaction (as fighting, fleeing, or submitting) between individuals usually of the same species

Walter Ong
Walter Ong (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


“The fulsome praise in the old, residually oral, rhetoric tradition strikes persons from a high-literacy culture as insincere, flatulent, and comically pretentious. But praise goes with the highly polarized, agonistic, oral world of good and evil, virtue and vice, villains and heroes.” — From Walter J. Ong‘s 1982 book Orality and Literacy

“As the soloist is repeatedly challenged by peremptory brass, the essential agonistic tension of the concerto grows, ending with the soloist climbing to a high, and one hopes victorious peak, before a sudden cutting off.” — From a symphony review by Peter McCallum in the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), May 6, 2013

Did you know?

Muscles not from Brussels
Muscles not from Brussels (Photo credit: tajai)

“Agonistic” has its roots in ancient Greece—specifically in the agonistic (to use the oldest sense of the word) athletic contests called “agons” featured at public festivals. From physical conflict to verbal jousting, “agonistic” came to be used as a synonym for “argumentative” and later to mean “striving for effect” or “strained.” Common current use, however, is biological, relating to confrontational interaction among animals of the same species and the responsive behaviors—such as aggression, flight, or submission—they exhibit. “Agonistic” is also sometimes used to describe an agonist muscle, a muscle that on contracting is automatically checked and controlled by an opposing muscle, that other muscle being an “antagonist.” For example, during a bicep curl in weight lifting, the (contracted) bicep is the agonistic muscle and the (relaxed) triceps muscle is the antagonist.


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