Sightly Thoughts on Gruntlement

31 Mar

Many years ago, during English Language A-Level, a friend and I began thinking about words that have no positive equivalents. Unintentional, for instance, corresponds to intentional, but what does unsightly correspond to? I’ve never heard anyone describe anything as ‘sightly’.

The list is longer than you might think. It all started with disgruntled – a great word in itself, but wouldn’t gruntled be good, too? Ruthless and reckless attracted our attention as well. The Government should be running a campaign urging us all to drive reckfully.

A lot of these are what called fossil words – words that are preserved inside other words, in this case their negative versions. Reck, ruth and gorm used to actually be things, and people would use them in sentences, but they have died out, leaving only confusing traces in reckless, ruthless and gormless.

The issue sprang back to mind many years later because someone on the radio ticked Madonna off for singing “nothing’s indestructible”, criticising the phrase as a double negative. Leaving aside the fact that the criticism was based on a misunderstanding of the double negative rule (which is itself a silly rule), what was she supposed to have said? “Everything is destructable”? Is that a word?

Below is the list of these positive equivalents that are never used, as far as I know. It is nowhere near exhaustive and suggestions for additions will be considered ruthfully.

(The friend, by the way, was Kerry Smallman, who these days produces weird European house music,  and very good poetry, if you want to check it out.)

AimfullyGusting (As in disgusting, not as in wind. Although wind can be quite disgusting… )
Card (as in discard)Hapless
DupitablyScathed (although we do have scathing)


3 Responses to “Sightly Thoughts on Gruntlement”

  1. stuffeuropeansdo April 2, 2012 at 9:43 am #


    I’ve often thought about this, too! I will try and remember them and report back!

    I also have joined the blogosphere with my pontifications on European culture:

  2. kcmurdarasi May 5, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    I’ve just discovered “ingenuousness” in a novel from 1943 (The Robe by Lloyd C Douglas) so there’s one that can’t go on the list. Has anyone else found any of these in use?

  3. Karen Murdarasi March 29, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

    Just found “gruntled” in Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman! Page 49 of the Headline Review paperback. Still in the negative, though – “far from gruntled”.

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