By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
Sometimes it’s good to draw attention to one’s own, or someone else’s, open-minded attitude to something. But that very phrase ‘open-minded’ can easily become overused, and perhaps, in any case, it’s not quite the phrase you’re looking for because it can easily convey too open an outlook. As a wise person once said, you don’t want to be so open-minded that your brains fall out.
Clearly, there are times when some alternative words would be useful. So without more ado, let’s explore some of the best synonyms – and some antonyms – for open-mindedness.
Synonyms for ‘open-minded’
Probably the closest synonym for ‘open-minded’ is another ‘-minded’ formation: BROAD-MINDED. This is fairly self-explanatory, though the term broad-minded is perhaps of an older vintage than open-minded – although even the latter was established by the 1740s, when the novelist Samuel Richardson used it in an early example of the novel form (the novel truly was ‘novel’ then), Clarissa: ‘Such persons generally find it to their purpose, that all the world should be open-minded but themselves.’
If you’re broad-minded, you are almost certainly of a LIBERAL disposition: not liberal in the more narrowly political sense, but in the sense of being open to and TOLERANT of other ideas and behaviours.
Indeed, tolerant is an adjective whose meaning is often misconstrued, or at least only half-construed. Being tolerant of something does not mean being sympathetic towards everything, but putting up with those things with which we are not in sympathy.
This means that tolerant is slightly different from a word like PERMISSIVE, which entails openly supporting or permitting something; tolerance involves opposition to something but a willingness to bear with it all the same.
Being ACCEPTING or PROGRESSIVE also conveys this same idea of permitting and, in many cases, agreeing with particular views of behaviours. Again, though, terms like INDULGENT and FORBEARING suggest a certain degree of clenched teeth about the whole business, much like a parent being forbearing in the face of some rude backchat from their child.
A LATITUDINARIAN is a term that was originally used of religious people who were tolerant of a broad range of beliefs and attitudes, but is now used in non-religious contexts as well.
Finally, if you’re open-minded because you wish to approach everything in an OBJECTIVE, IMPARTIAL, UNPREJUDICED, UNBIASED, or NON-JUDGMENTAL way, you might be described as DISPASSIONATE.
Curiously, the earliest citation for the word impartial in the OED is Shakespeare’s Richard II from the 1590s: ‘Impartiall are our eies and eares.’ If you’re impartial, you’re not partial, so not in sympathy with a particular party in a dispute or issue.
But of course open-minded conveys not simply a lack of political affiliation but an active determination not to follow a particular dogma or belief system without considering all possible options.
There are several synonyms for ‘open-minded’ which suggest a willingness or ability to shift or modify one’s own position on something: AMENABLE, for instance. This term is from a French word which meant ‘to take or lead someone somewhere’.
That ‘somewhere’ was usually a law-court, as amenable initially meant ‘subject to some form of jurisdiction’, accountable, or answerable to the law (e.g., for a crime).
However, the sense of liability conveyed by amenable changed over the centuries and by the eighteenth century it simply meant ‘liable or open to change’, or willing to change one’s mind. A related word is FLEXIBLE, which in this context refers to someone’s ability to adapt their view, e.g., as the evidence dictates.
Antonyms for ‘open-minded’
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best antonym for open-minded is CLOSED-MINDED, which is often erroneously rendered as close-minded (as though the mind were close or near to something!). The opposite or antonym of open is closed, of course.
Similarly, broad-minded finds its corresponding antonym in the phrase NARROW-MINDED, and if you’re the very opposite of unbiased or unprejudiced, then it stands to reason you’re BIASED or PREJUDICED.