A Gruntled look at Orphan Negatives.

One of my post popular posts ever was 102 great words that aren’t in English but should be! and I’ve written lots on different aspects of both English language Words we still use from Shakespeare! and Tracing words back through time others Languages with no vowels

I love words and the meaning of words and especially words that have fallen out of favour Words that are becoming extinct and even long-lost letters https://stephenliddell.co.uk/2017/03/03/aedifying-use-of-ae/ in fact I even wrote a book on My New Book – Straight from the Horse’s Mouth : 100 Idioms, their Meanings and Origins so this post is right up my street.

Have you ever noticed there are words with a negative meaning put seemingly without their positive sounding opposite. Everyone knows of the word ‘Disgruntled’ but how often is someone described as ‘Gruntled’?

  • May an intelligent person be described as a becile?
  • Would someone who makes himself obvious be going cognito?
  • If something is in motion, might it be described as ert?
  • If something causes harm, is it nocuous?

All of these are examples of what are called orphan negatives — words that have no positive form. There are more of these than you realise.

A knight may have to handle an unWieldy sword but why do so few of them ever have wieldy weapons? If he was a fantastic fighter he might be described as inVincible but his defeated opponents never seem to be labelled as Vincible. His armour may be imPervious to blows but you never hear about the unfortunate person who is pervious to them. His squire might unFurl his banner but is it ever furled away at the end of the day? Would this be unRuly or just ruly?

This whole blog post may actually not be inNocuous but rather Nocuous. Do you find it inSipid or perhaps for some reason it may come over as Sipid? Maybe I am being inAdvertently inCorrigible but I think I’m more advertently corrigible.

If you’ve made it this far through my maculate but not imMaculate post then maybe your imPeccable taste has left you for some peccable taste. Was it all evitable or inEvitable? Even writing this my demisable spirit could do with a bit of a boost on the inDomitable front. Maybe I’d feel better about things if my lockdown hair was kempt rather than unkempt?

There are a surprising number of orphan negatives and author Jack Winter wrote the following short story in The New Yorker (July 25, 1994). It is bursting with orphan negatives and if you’re anything like me then when you come across one, you will immediately think of what the more well known opposite word meaning is before properly understanding the context of the word and sentence.

How I Met My Wife

It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate.

I was furling my weildy umbrella for the coat check when I saw her standing alone in a corner. She was a descript person, a woman in a state of total array. Her hair was kempt, her clothing shevelled, and she moved in a gainly way. 

I wanted desperately to meet her, but I knew I’d have to make bones about it, since I was travelling cognito. Beknowst to me, the hostess, whom I could see both hide and hair of, was very proper, so it would be skin off my nose if anything bad happened. And even though I had only swerving loyalty to her, my manners couldn’t be peccable. Only toward and heard-of behaviour would do. 

Fortunately, the embarrassment that my maculate appearance might cause was evitable. There were two ways about it, but the chances that someone as flappable as I would be ept enough to become persona grata or a sung hero were slim. I was, after all, something to sneeze at, someone you could easily hold a candle to, someone who usually aroused bridled passion. 

So I decided not to risk it. But then, all at once, for some apparent reason, she looked in my direction and smiled in a way that I could make head or tails of. 

I was plussed. It was concerting to see that she was communicado, and it nerved me that she was interested in a pareil like me, sight seen. Normally, I had a domitable spirit, but, being corrigible, I felt capacitated—as if this were something I was great shakes at—and forgot that I had succeeded in situations like this only a told number of times. So, after a terminable delay, I acted with mitigated gall and made my way through the ruly crowd with strong givings. 

Nevertheless, since this was all new hat to me and I had not time to prepare a promptu speech, I was petuous. Wanting to make only called-for remarks, I started talking about the hors d’oeuvres, trying to abuse her of the notion that I was sipid, and perhaps even bunk a few myths about myself. 

She responded well, and I was mayed that she considered me a savoury character who was up to some good. She told me who she was. “What a perfect nomer,” I said, advertently. The conversation became more and more choate, and we spoke at length to much avail. But I was defatigable, so I had to leave at a godly hour. I asked if she wanted to come with me. To my delight, she was committal. We left the party together and have been together ever since. I have given her my love, and she has requited it.

If you’re interested do check out my new £xcluded Voices book which went to #1 in its section within hours of release!

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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3 Responses to A Gruntled look at Orphan Negatives.

  1. Ankur Mithal says:

    Love it.
    I remember ‘gruntled’ from one of the Wodehouse books. Brilliant usage.
    I wonder if Winter wrote it tempore or extempore?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ankur! This post published by mistake so as only 9 people have read it, I will hide it again until next week otherwise I have nothing ready. It’s great that you have come across ‘gruntled’ before though!


  2. Pingback: Gormless Ghosts and Clement Cranes – Ep. 11 | Off-Grid

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