Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Be Bashless and Norant: Have Gorm and Ruth

The other day the 13-year old boy who used to live in the house I once owned, was playing a computer game in which he constructed vehicles and then takes them on to the Martian landscape where he battles with other players.  For his age, his vocabulary is incredibly developed, something I put down to him being the son of an authoress.  However, when he was playing he was telling me as his vehicle charged forward that he was being 'bashful'.  I watched his game play and said I did not think that was the case; explaining that bashful meant 'shy' rather than being 'full of bash'.  He gathered what I meant and subsequently when acting boldly in the game he now tells me that he is behaving in a 'bashless' way, which I thought was a great invention.

This then got me to thinking about words in English which lack the alternative.  English is an irrational language anyway and I am not going to get into a discussion of 'cleave' here.  The two that came to mind were 'gormless', i.e. someone who is lacking in intelligence and certainly attention and 'ruthless', i.e. someone who is merciless.  When did we stop saying someone who is intelligent or attentive is 'gormful' or 's/he has got real gorm'?  When was anyone noted as being 'ruthful'? 

I did wonder if there was another in 'ignorant'.  The prefix 'ig' can mean lacking in something, the main example being 'ignoble'.  You can be 'noble' and so I wondered if you can also be 'norant'.  Examples might be, 'that Stephen Hawkins is a really norant man'. It is clear that someone who was bashless and norant would be far more dangerous than someone bashful and ignorant. Then I came on to 'baleful' and considered how nice it would be to meet someone who was 'baleless', i.e. jolly.  Someone who was 'hapful' as opposed to being 'hapless' may indeed also be baleless as they go through life without any mishaps.  Clearly these are antonyms - hap and mishap, but they do not manifest themselves the same way in our language.  In the same category would come 'aimful', the natural opposite of 'aimless'.

English has too many left-over remnants.  It can be entertaining to note the anomalies.  However, not for the first time do they increase my appreciation of anyone able to learn English as their first or subsequent language, especially up to the idiomatic level.

P.P. 08/12/2014
As I had hoped other examples came to mind.  Two which seem to lack antonyms are 'wistful' and 'listless'.  Often they can go together as someone lost being wistful for the past can end up listless.  That is not to say that someone 'wistless', not at all looking at the past with nostalgic sentiment would be necessarily 'listful', i.e. full of life.  I did wonder if 'list' was simply a distortion for 'lust' as in the sense of 'lust for life' rather than sexual connotations.  We do not speak of anyone being 'lustless' though 'lustful' is certainly used, but again, mainly related to an urge for sex rather than for living.


Gan'dol said...

As you said a very entertaining post. I myself wonder similarly, from time to time, about my own and other languages.
Will you mind if I ask you something? Is there a word, in english, meaning "full of bash" (as I understood the boy said that because his vehicle was hit a lot of times in the game, am I correct?)
Sorry for any misinterpretation or errors in my text, but, as you can guess, English is not my mother language.

And for norant... Well, it could be. Latin had "gnarus" (someone who know something) as a base for ignarus (unaware) or ignorans (ignorant).
In Italian those are, even today, distinct words (I'm not 100% sure about English). Ignaro (unaware) possesses a neutral meaning while ignorante (ignorant) is almost always derogative.

Rooksmoor said...

Gan'dol, thank you this is very interesting. I learnt Latin as a schoolboy but did poorly at it and have never used it since.

Yes, I was thinking of something similar for 'full of bash'. He meant he rushed out into the action rather than hanging back behind cover as some of the other players do.

I suppose the word would he should have used would be something like 'courageous' or in fact 'aggressive' or perhaps best is 'pugnacious', which I imagine comes from Latin.

To 'bash' someone in English does mean to hit them; we also talk having a 'bash' when cars collide.

Keir Thorpe said...

The other day I overheard two students talking about being 'gruntled', i.e. the unused opposite of 'disgruntled'. They were using gruntled in the sense of being content with their situation. I suggested they checked out this discussion.

Keir Thorpe said...

Another one that a colleague of mine just brought up was 'feckless' meaning someone who is inconsistent or ill-focused or even a wastrel. However, we never talk of anyone being 'feckful' or having 'a lot of feck', i.e. taking responsibility for their actions and being consistent in them.