Word Maven Patricia T. O'Conner on Being "Gruntled"

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Our word maven Patricia T. O'Conner wonders: Are we ever “gruntled”? She looks at the words “gruntled” and “disgruntled” and answers questions on English language and grammar. An updated and expanded third edition of her book, Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, is available in paperback, as is  Origins of the Specious, written with Stewart Kellerman.

If you have a question about language and grammar, leave a comment or call us at 212-433-9692!


Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [42]

Hi -- What is all the "I think the word means...", by a guest who is supposed to know about words? I heard the "-titute" question, and went to (I shell out the money for the subscription, so I don't get all the ads), and found the answer in about thirty seconds. This site (and I'm sure other decent dictionary sites) include etymologies and links to synonyms. Even Wikipedia entries include etymologies for many words. I got a better answer to the "gruntled" question as well, and got more insight into the "eavesdrop" question, all within a few minutes.

The repeated incantation of ignorance and wonder -- "Gee, that's a good question. I don't know. Maybe it means...." -- is maddening. Yeah, I listen, hoping to learn something. Most of what I learn, though, happens during several minutes of not-overly-strenuous searching online, getting real answers about the words in question.

Please, when she is a guest, have an assistant nearby just look up the words in a couple of good online dictionaries.

About the word _prostitute_:
"Etymology: Latin prostitutus, past participle of prostituere to expose publicly to prostitution, prostitute, from pro before + statuere to set, station -- more at FOR, STATUTE
transitive verb"
Citation format for this entry:
"prostitute." Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. (20 Jun. 2012).

Jun. 20 2012 02:43 PM
Henry from Katonah

Last week I read a New York Times obituary of an actress who played one of the Bennett sisters in a movie version of Pride and Prejudice. I was disappointed that it referred to the sisters as "marriagable" not "nubile." If the reporter had used that term s/he could have put "(Look it up!)" afterwards. Have you ever Googled the term "nubile" and looked at the images with the SafeSearch off ?

Jun. 20 2012 02:02 PM
Andrew Elliott from Madison, NJ

I was in the car listening to the discussion about the word "bombastic". Patricia brought up the term "bombast" and its definition. While I was in graduate school studying theatre, I had a course in period dress and decor. The bombast was a pad that women wore under their crinoline gowns to accentuate or "pad-out" their posterior. It was sort of a less contraptionalized means to achieve the popular, though decidedly uncomfortable bustle. Whether the name of the bombast roll takes its name from the word, or the word's origins are in the garment I could not say.

Jun. 20 2012 02:01 PM
shhh from NYC

How can "to bone a chicken or fish" and "to debone a chickenor fish" both mean "to take the bones out" where "to bone a corset" is the opposite of "to debone a corset" ?

Jun. 20 2012 02:01 PM
Edward Davenpor from Manhattan

"immaculate" has an opposite. "Maculated" means spotted or blemished. The coats of certain animals are described as maculated.

Jun. 20 2012 02:01 PM

So why do so many people start sentences with the word 'so'?

Jun. 20 2012 02:00 PM
Andrew Loebelson from Riverside, CT

As a teacher, I would sometimes give an extra credit question,"Write down 'They're there with their two pair of pears to pare too." I got some very interesting results.

Jun. 20 2012 01:59 PM
Robert from NYC

"Go see who's at the door?" Why is that left out here. I say Go,see who's at the door.

Jun. 20 2012 01:57 PM
Mary Beth from Brooklyn

I hate when people say "all of the sudden" instead of "all of a sudden." But am I right?

Jun. 20 2012 01:57 PM
mike in brooklyn from Brooklyn

Words like unbeknown might have German origin. In the German the word "bekannt" mean well known/ famous. In German one will use unbekannt to describe someone that is not well known or famous. And there are others.

Jun. 20 2012 01:56 PM
Tim from Fort Greene

Or how about EEE-velyn Waugh? If someone calls her EH-velyn, you know they're not "one of us!"

Jun. 20 2012 01:53 PM
Robert from NYC

Just except the fact that the -stitute has more than one origin and it doesn't apply to all. Eg, latin prostituta is a prostitute and that's just not related to your callers or listener's "etymology". The assumption would be that there is /was a pros- and the -titute is a suffis???!!!!! I don't think so. The word is prostituta in latin. The verb is protituere, you explain it if you can I see no need to look for a suffix here.

Jun. 20 2012 01:52 PM
joan garrison from Astoria

when did "I am overwhelmed" become "I am in overwhelm" and is it here to stay? I hope not!

Jun. 20 2012 01:48 PM
Robert from NYC

FINALLY, other show like myself use loan as a noun and lend as the verb. I know it's become acceptable to use loan as a verb for decades but it still drives me crazy to hear and as Ms O'Connor's own husband and the guy who called in about this. I even wrote in here once before on this and it wasn't picked up in the show. Thank you all who with me stick to this one irritating anacronism. lol.

Jun. 20 2012 01:47 PM
Mag from NJ

In the same vein as the last caller: longue vs. lounge

Jun. 20 2012 01:45 PM
Walter A. Theadford from New York, NY

Greetings Leonard & Patricia:

Years ago a was forced to look up a word in the dictionary that meant the combination of "church & monopoly". I forgot the word and am wondering if Patricia is familiar with this word.

Thank you again for a great show!

Daily listener,

Walter Theadford
34th & 8th @ work (1 Penn Plaza)

Jun. 20 2012 01:43 PM
John Saverino from Glen Head NY

eaves-dropping Perhaps listening at a window under the eaves

Jun. 20 2012 01:43 PM
Mag from NJ

What about (im)mediate? (De)bunk? (Dis)helved?

Jun. 20 2012 01:43 PM
Mel from Hartford

What's the difference between "continual" and "continuous"?

Jun. 20 2012 01:41 PM
muriel from Financial District

I think eaves dropping has something to do with the whispering wall effect of the eaves where sound travels further than you would expect it to. You can find the sweet spot to listen in.

Jun. 20 2012 01:40 PM

The "-stitute" suffix comes from the Latin "statuere" meaning "to establish"

Jun. 20 2012 01:39 PM
Nathanael Komline

I believe eavesdropping comes from hiding under the eaves of a thatched house to escape the rain and hearing someone's conversation (the eaves being the part of the roof which juts out past a house's walls. this can be quite far on thatched roofs)

Jun. 20 2012 01:39 PM
susan from nyc

I HATE the word "Takeaway" as used today, and often on
WNYC. Why can't we just use the word conclusion.

Jun. 20 2012 01:38 PM
Tanya from Hazlet, NJ

when did automatic become a word. Also "dead as a doornail" as a phrase?

Jun. 20 2012 01:38 PM
stew From Manahattan

Perhaps the most misused word in the English language: Peruse. It's actual definition is "to examine carefully, thoroughly or at length." IT does NOT mean to 'browse over' or 'finger though,' as it is pervasively used.

Jun. 20 2012 01:36 PM
AmeliaInBK from Brooklyn

When do you need to use the phase "to be"? For example, my sister says I am wrong to say "this shirt needs washed," and I should say "this shirt needs TO BE washed." Are both ways correct? Thanks very much!

Jun. 20 2012 01:35 PM
zach from west palm beach

Leonard is very intelligent and speaks very well but I twice heard him incorrectly say copy-written instead of copyrighted for the past tense of copyright.

Jun. 20 2012 01:32 PM
Scott Marshall from Briarcliff Manor

Hi - It's a thrill to be even communicating with the LP Show.
Here's my query or pet peeve:
The inappropriate use of the phase: "at your earliest convenience" incorrectly as "at my earliest convenience". I hear this on otherwise educated person's business voice mail messages all the time.
Thanks and best!

Jun. 20 2012 01:32 PM
Ken Braun from Nutley, NJ

In the past couple of years, to my increasing irritation, I've heard people -- including smart people on WNYC -- answering all kinds of questions with "Absolutely," as if it's an all-purpose affirmative. They often use it when the subject is something that can't be measured in absolute terms. "Is brown mustard better than yellow mustard?" "Absolutely!" Absurd!

Jun. 20 2012 01:32 PM
Nick from UWS

Speaking of language, I wish Leonard would stop saying "But..." in response to things his guests say. It has the effect of somewhat rudely negating what was just said by his guest and sounds like he's trying to replace his guest's viewpoint with his own, or argue with his guest, which is not the job of the interviewer. It's enough to just ask the guest the next leading question without prefacing it with "But,.."

Jun. 20 2012 01:29 PM
simon from New York City

Is the "x" in sixth pronounced as an "x" or as many people say, a "c"?

Jun. 20 2012 01:24 PM
CK from YKT

If only you could stop people of using "incentivized". I believe "incented" is all you need. "Incentivized" always seems like it's being done through some sort of processing machine. Like being "Simonized".

Jun. 20 2012 01:24 PM
Marc Naimark from Paris

Patricia and Stuart have done a great makeover on their website and blog, which makes me wonder what language blogs and websites they themselves consult for entertainment and information.

Jun. 20 2012 01:19 PM
oscar from ny

I ♥ Patricia!

Jun. 20 2012 01:05 PM
tom from astoria

INTEGRITY INTEGRITY : Why is it only a noun? How about acting with integrity: integreous or other form?

Jun. 20 2012 01:05 PM

Is being gruntled related to being couth?

Jun. 20 2012 01:02 PM
Martyn Reynolds from Norwalk CT

The difference between Bring and take? I was brought up to use bring in the context of it coming towards you while take was carry something away from you. ie take this apple to the teacher, take off your coat. However I more and more here people use the word bring when taking something to someone. ie bring this apple to your teacher. I have not heard bring off your coat though. Am I being a fuddy duddy or is bring in the second example incorrect?

This definition has been gnawing away at me for a few years now, Love an answer.

Jun. 20 2012 12:58 PM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

Hi, Patricia. What is the average shelf life for overused phrases such as: (In answer to a question) "Yeah! No, yeah ..."
and (my most hated) "... at the end of the day ..."

Also, is it possible to abolish upSPEAK?? (Yes, that is an actual question, not just a high register terminal! : ))

Jun. 20 2012 12:07 PM
Steve from Rockville Centre, NY

Constitute, institute, prostitute, destitute. These words are so different yet share the same root. What does the "stitute" mean?

Jun. 20 2012 09:57 AM
Joe Adama from Bergen County, NJ

What is the meaning of the word "app" with and without a period at the end?

Jun. 20 2012 08:53 AM

Correction: "... Spanish uses the conditional in the 'if' phrase."

Jun. 20 2012 06:04 AM

No less than Nina Totenberg, commenting on All Things Considered about the acquittal of Roger Clemens this week, said "I would have been shocked if the jury would have convicted him." I have noticed the encroachment of this errant sequence of tenses that properly is "... had convicted him." I suspect it is because I think Spanish uses the conditional in the result part of "if-then" situations, but there are probably other languages that do, too. English properly says "If it rains I will stay at home," "If it rained I would stay home," and "If it had rained I would have stayed home," NOT "If it would rain I would stay home" and "If it would have rained I would have stayed home" in the latter 2 cases. What do you think? Is this a trend?

Jun. 20 2012 05:28 AM

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