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I've seen the famous quote from Hermes Trismegistus:

"As above, so below. As within, so without. As the universe, so the soul."

Is without actually the opposite of within?

For example, these opposites make sense:

On the ground, I have seen the clouds above me.

On an airplane, I have seen the clouds below me.

But, these don't seem to work.

I struggle to contain the emotions within my heart.

I struggle to contain the emotions without my heart.

Is modern usage of without eclipsing the real meaning, or does this not make sense? In what context would it make sense? Examples and answers would be appreciated.

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    Does the following work as opposites for you: 'The enemies came from within/without the castle'? – user6951 Feb 14 '15 at 2:17
  • They can used be opposites. They don't have to be. So your last sentence can mean the opposite, but it doesn't have to. This is because without means more than one thing. It is simply worded ambiguously. – user6951 Feb 14 '15 at 2:42
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    I don't have time for a proper answer, but in short, "without" only means "outside" in very limited settings these days. It almost always means "lacking" instead. I wouldn't call either meaning the real meaning, they are just two different meanings, one of which has basically faded from use. Webster's still lists "outside" as without's definition #1 though. – Jason Patterson Feb 14 '15 at 2:50
  • I agree with @Jason Patterson. And some dictionaries list definitions in order of oldest to newest, even if the oldest meaning is becoming archaic or obsolete. – user6951 Feb 14 '15 at 3:00
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In modern usage, no. "Without" is no longer used to mean "not inside"; it solely means "in the absence of".

In historical (or deliberately old-fashioned) usage, yes. Your Hermes Trismegistus quote is an example of this.

If we assume modern usage, your last sentence...

I struggle to contain the emotions without my heart.

...means, "I have difficulty containing emotions when I don't have a [or don't use my] heart." If we were to take it as old-fashioned English... well, it would still seem strange; since the heart is where emotions (metaphorically) come from, what emotions are you containing outside of your heart?


Lastly, it's worth noting that "without" isn't the only phrase meaning both "not inside" and "in the absence of"; "outside of" still means both in current usage, hence this joke from Jim Brewer:

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

"Aside from" might also have this kind of double meaning, except that its literal meaning ("next to, beside" rather than "not inside") is pretty much never used! It only ever means "in the absence of", or "if we ignore the (possible) existence of".

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    Well, 'without' maintains its 'not inside of' meaning precisely when paired with 'within'. – user6951 Feb 14 '15 at 3:20
  • @δοῦλος: Hmm, I'm still dubious about calling that a current usage. It's practically a stock phrase ("within and without"), unable to be broken apart without risking the loss of "without"'s special meaning. – Tim Pederick Feb 14 '15 at 3:42
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In modern usage, "without" means the opposite of within only when explicitly contrasted with it. And it comes across as a bit archaic and poetic when used that way.

So your example:

I struggle to contain the emotions without my heart.

Doesn't work. But the sentence,

I am overwhelmed by the storm of emotions within and without my heart

is okay, if very flowery to the point of fruitiness.

(Note, your example has an additional problem of using contain to refer to things on the outside of the referent. That sounds weird, though is not strictly speaking wrong. Your example does make me imagine the speaker running around trying round up his emotions like someone trying to herd ducks. I assume you mean, by "the emotions without my heart", other people's emotions. We don't usually speak of subjective experiences, i.e. feelings, being outside of one's heart – that's not idiomatic – but rather speak of other's feelings as being outside of our selves.)

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"I struggle to contain the emotions within my heart," does work in modern usage, although it comes across as slightly self-consciously poetic. Normal (American) usage would substitute "in" for "within".

However, modern usage overwhelmingly uses "without" in the sense of "a total lack", and your second example comes across as very strange.

"I struggle to contain the emotions without my heart," can be paraphrased as either "Since I don't have my heart, I struggle to contain the emotions," or "I struggle to contain the emotions without using my heart," and neither of these makes a great deal of sense. Note that in both cases, using "the emotions" implies that exactly which emotions are being struggled with was specified in a preceding sentence.

  • I appreciate the answer, but you never answered the question. Is without the opposite of within? – Pyraminx Feb 14 '15 at 2:23
  • "modern usage overwhelmingly uses "without" in the sense of "a total lack"", so the answer is no, at least not nowadays (in American usage). – WhatRoughBeast Feb 14 '15 at 4:47

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