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  LOGOLOG
a weblog of wordplay by Eric Harshbarger

Not Positive About This One

I've decided to use this entry of LOGOLOG to start keeping track of common words which have a negative form but for which their apparent positive conjugates are not well known or even extant. For example, NONCHALANT is a common enough word. It would appear that it is the negative of CHALANT, but the latter is not a word.

Strange, huh?

Here is my list so far:

DISGRUNTLED
DISHEVEL
INEPT
INERT
NONCHALANT
UNCOUTH
UNKEMPT

Feel free to alert me to more in the comments section below.

By the way, this is hardly a new topic concerning the English language. If memory serves me correctly, I believe that someone wrote an article (for the New Yorker?) in which he or she used as many of these non-existent words as possible. The result sounded oddly acceptable because so many of the words seemed right, but in fact, the prose bordered on nonsense.

-- Eric

[16 February 2007]
   
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Comments about this article:
How about AMORPHOUS?

Posted by: Eric [not Harshbarger, different 'Eric'!]


not sure about Morphous, but I think that Morph (to morph actually) exists...but that's just me.

Posted by: Claude


couth is a fairly common word.

Posted by: Greg


I suppose COUTH is occasionally used (though I never have); however it is a back-formation from UNCOUTH, so I'll keep it on my list [grin].

Posted by: Eric Harshbarger


Another one: INDEFATIGABLE

Also, the positive forms of these are relatively uncommon:

INCORRIGIBLE

INDELIBLE

INVINCIBLE

And, what about INDIFFERENT? It doesn't quite fit the category, but in some ways it is more interesting: DIFFERENT and INDIFFERENT are not opposites.

Posted by: Eric [same 'Eric' as above - different 'Eric' from Harshbarger]


By coincidence the current issue of Word Ways [http://www.wordways.com/] has a small piece about this very topic (p. 34). Some of the included examples are:

ILLICIT

INADVERTENT

INEFFABLE

INNOCUOUS

DISPARAGE

IMPERVIOUS

UNWIELDY

...

most of the positive forms CAN be found in unabridged dictionaries, but they are rarely actually used.

Posted by: Eric Harshbarger


Yes, it was in the New Yorker. Copies of it are all over the web. Here's one: http://www.ling.upenn.edu/~beatrice/humor/how-i-met-my-wife.html

How about INSCRUTABLE, INDETERMINATE, UNPREPOSSESSING, EXPROPRIATE, and INVEIGH?

Posted by: Alan Morgan


INFLAMMABLE is actually the *same* as FLAMMABLE.

Posted by: Anonymous


Yes, I actually mention (IN)FLAMMABLE in this past entry:

http://www.ericharshbarger.org/cgi-bin/logolog.cgi?20060621

Posted by: Eric Harshbarger


Hm...I believe that this issue was vaguelly addressed in one episode of the Strong Bad emails at homestarrunner.com. He refers to someone as "uncouth" and then wonders aloud if anything is just plain couth...

Posted by: Jamie


What about DEBILITATING?

Posted by: Peter


 
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