Word of the Month – March 2015

David Zapatka

Reader and fellow Pickleball player Connie Wilkinson brought up an interesting topic. There are so many words with the prefix “dis” that are not words when dis is removed or are they words? How about disgruntled, dismayed, disturbed distilled, discombobulated, disrupted and distinguished? Connie asks, “Did you ever hear of anyone being gruntled, mayed, turbed, tilled, combobulated, rupted or tinguished?”

Her comments got me thinking about this so I did a little research. I discovered none of these are words with the exception of the word “gruntle,” our word for this month.

The word “disgruntle” is familiar to us meaning to make discontented. Gruntle can have two very different meanings. The intransitive meaning is to grumble, complain, grouse or mutter complaints. The transitive meaning is to assuage, mollify, to put in a good mood. It’s interesting that the same word can have two contradictory meanings. That’s English for you! This of course creates disagreement on how the word should be used. Most of us avoid using it assuming disgruntle is an orphan negative (a negative without a corresponding positive antonym, like inept) which of course is the question posed by Connie in the first place.

On a humorous note, P. G. Wodehouse, an English author and humorist, once wrote, “I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”

The intransitive form of the word gruntle has been around since the 15th century. “Several regulars at the restaurant are gruntled about the change in the menu.” Because it is intransitive, the preposition about is used with it. Toward the end of the 17th century the prefix dis- was added to gruntle to make the intransitive verb transitive. Now writers are taking the prefix off again and using it in its original intransitive form. I guess like everything else, things trend or cycle.

The root of this word is grunt which is thought to have an onomatopoetic or imitative origin. The suffix –le was once a diminutive marker. The original meaning of the word gruntle was “to grunt a little, make a small grunt” like the sound of a piglet. You may still hear someone on a farm speak of the pigs grunting and the piglets gruntling.

I hope this short dissertation has gruntled you and not made you disgruntled.

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