Switch to Desktop Site

Mind the lexical gap, and the cranberry morpheme

'Unpaired' words can be a source of fun, but these 'lonely negatives' have a real place in language.


Cranberry vines grow berries on Jeff LaFleur's Mayflower Cranberries farm, on August 24, 2012 in Plympton, Massachusetts. 'Unpaired' words, like the 'cran' of cranberry, can be a source of fun in language.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File

About these ads

When a linguistic issue so captures the public imagination that even the "Car Talk" guys are talking about it, it's time to pay heed.

They were having fun the other day with a New Yorker piece from 1994, "How I Met My Wife," by Jack Winter.

It's a textbook example of "unpaired" words. No, that's not a typo for "impaired." Unpaired words are those that seem to be missing a partner.

"It had been a rough day," Mr. Winter wrote, "so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate. I was furling my wieldy umbrella for the coat check when I saw her standing alone in a corner. She was a descript person, a woman in a state of total array. Her hair was kempt, her clothing shevelled, and she moved in a gainly way."

The story ends happily ever after, a tale of "requited" love. But it makes us ask, if we say "nonchalant," why isn't there a "chalant"? But there isn't, any more than there's a "gruntled" or a "consolate." (No, wait: Isn't that like an embassy? But I digress.)

Not long ago, Judith B. Herman had a chortlesome piece on Mental Floss about "12 Lonely Negative Words" whose partners either have faded away or never existed in the first place. There was, she reports, a along with into the 18th century, for instance. had a brief run opposite to about the same time. once played opposite to in the latter's original sense of "painless." Nowadays means lazy or disinclined to exertion, and is no more. , though, never had an opposite .


Page:   1   |   2

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.