Are You Gruntled Yet?

Some long-lost words remain in our language as pieces of other words. Take, for example, the word "ruthless." The old word "ruth", meaning roughly, "pity", has dropped out of the language entirely, but "ruthless" remains, its difference from "pitiless" somehow making it still a useful word.

"Unkempt" is another example of an orphaned piece of a word. The word "kempt", meaning "combed", has long since vanished.

"Dismay" is another interesting word. The "may" part of it comes from the Anglo-Saxon "maegen", (the "g" is pronounced as a "y") the word for strength in Old England. It is the same word that is used in the expression "with might and main." Later it was extended to mean "courage". The word "dismayed" meant "deprived of courage or resolution".

As in "maegen", the "g" before a high front vowel (like "i" or "e") was pronounced as a "y". Our word "if" was originally "gif", and you can still sometimes see it written that way in old manuscripts, but since the "y" sound at the beginning was almost silent, it got dropped off.

And are you gruntled yet? The "dis" of disgruntled is not the same as the "dis" of "dismayed." It means "completely", and so "gruntled," just as it sounds, is an old word that means "grumbling." Today, however, "gruntled" has found its way into dictionaries as a word in its own right. If you look at the origin, you will see that it gives "gruntled" as a back-formation from "disgruntled." People assumed that "disgruntled" was a negative and invented the word "gruntled." Similar back-formations add new words to the English dictionary every year. One of the most well-known as a back-formation is "edit, " which arose because the word "editor" sounds as if it should mean "one who edits."

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