Feck ‘n’ Gruntle

I was idling my Sunday afternoon with a crossword in which the clue for 18 down was ‘untidy in appearance’ (7 letters) the answer being ‘unkempt’ of course.

Unkempt is one of those words for which there isn’t a simple antonym. Removing the ‘un’ leaves us with ‘kempt’ which certainly doesn’t mean neat or tidy, at least not to the modern English speaker.

It is one of those words where the negative remains current long after the negative has faded from speech. Kempt once meant ‘well-combed’, indeed the word comb derives from the Old English verb ‘kemb’, so I suppose the answer to 18 down should have been ‘uncombed’ in any logical language.

I’ve been meaning to make a list of such words as they occur to me, but I haven’t because of my fecklessness. Oh, there’s another one – my lack of purpose or sense of responsibility might make me feckless, but had I been more diligent you wouldn’t think I was ‘feck’, although if you say ‘effective’ quickly you might get a clue as to the derivation of the older word.

Less obvious is the word ‘reckless’ from the Old English ‘receleas’ meaning thoughtless or careless. Our forebears once had ‘reccan’ to describe taking care or heed, yet we don’t have that luxury. J R R Tolkein used it in Return of the King in 1955, but unearthing it elsewhere requires some reccanful literary archeology.

Then there are the ‘dis-’ words like disgruntled which literally means being subject to frequent gruntling. The gruntle in this case is to grumble, rather than making some sort of animal noise, although I suppose it could be easy to mistake the sound of one for that of the other.

Finally, we have ruthless. We seldom, if ever, describe a compassionate person as ‘ruthful’ in the way we might once have done. Which is a pity – or a ruth if you prefer.

There must be lots of others that I haven’t thought of so please feel free to add your contributions.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

8 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 21st March 2016

    I like your ruthful post.

  • Trevor Rowley 21st March 2016

    Don’t we always think of “temper” as being bad temper (ie a negative) whereas, I believe, the word temper describes our state/manner/condition/mood etc. in an overall manner. In which case, we can have a good temper as well as a bad temper, but rarely, if ever, does someone say, “I am in a good temper .”

    • Mr Parrot 22nd March 2016

      A interesting one since temper originally meant that your humours were in balance, hence ‘losing uour temper’. That remains when we talk of being in a ‘bad temper’which I guess gets abbreviated to things like ‘he has a temper’. We do refer to ‘ill-tempered’ of course.

  • Yorkshire Pudding 22nd March 2016

    Hello. Here I am on The Isle of Man but did you know that the Isle of Wight also means Isle of Man? Chaucer uses the word “wight” frequently as an alternative to “man”. Here’s an example from “The Monk’s Tale”:-
    “She kept her maidenhood from every wight
    To no man deigned she for to be bond.”
    Ironically the “Man” or earlier “Mann” in The Isle of Man comes from the Manx language and almost certainly means mountain or mountains.

    • Mr Parrot 22nd March 2016

      The Old English ‘wight’ or ‘wiht’was an all-emcompassing term for ‘living being, creature, person; something, anything’ which I suppose would mostly be men in those unenlightened Dark Ages.

      • Yorkshire Pudding 22nd March 2016

        I thought we were in the unenlightened Dark Ages right now what with George Osborne, Donald Trump, Little Mix, creationists and the pointless slaughter of innocent people in Brussels.

        • Mr Parrot 22nd March 2016

          You may well be right, but forgive me – who is this Little Mix person of whom you speak?

          • Yorkshire Pudding 23rd March 2016

            Yo! You gotta get down with the kids grand daddy! Little Mix = manufactured corporate girl group… like Girls Aloud before them. Glad to fill this yawning gap in your cultural knowledge. Have a nice day.

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