When you think about it—not that you do, but if you did—it seems that the word “extraordinary” makes no sense whatsoever. After all, how can something be extra ordinary, and why would that be good?
The other day, my thoroughly ordinary best friend brought that up, and it got me to wondering about other misleading compound words in the English language. It turns out, there are quite a few, and some of them quite interesting.
Take “cranberry”, for example. We can see quite plainly where blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries get their names… but cranberries? What is a cran? And how about gooseberries?!
Of course, in addition to prefixes which don’t mean anything, there’s a regular plethora of those which do mean something… just not what we think. And of course, many of these are part of words which have no independent root. Take “disgruntled”, for example. Anyone can be “disgruntled”, but can you be “gruntled”? Presumably, that’s what you are most of the time, when you’re not disgruntled.
Then there’s the matter of debunking something—taking the bunk out of it. It certainly seems that if you can debunk something, someone must have bunked it in the first place, but that’s not at all what “bunk” means. In fact, given what it means to bunk something (or someone), it rather seems that “debunking” should be the business of getting someone out of bed.
If you are terribly confused or frustrated about something, you are said to be “discombobulated”. While that’s all well and good, why isn’t it the case that if you understand something utterly and have mastered it completely, you are “combobulated”? How can we discombobulate that which was never combobulated!?
You’ll have to forgive your blogger, here, if he sounds nonchalant about these matters. Trust me; if I could be chalant, this is where you’d see it. Unfortunately, I can’t, because the word doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, the next time someone’s just wandering along not fretting, blithely going about their business as though it were of no great concern, you might suggest that they be a bit more chalant… just to rile them up.
If you can dismantle something, why can’t you mantle it? Well, you can, but it doesn’t mean the opposite of “dismantle”. It seems that if dismantling is taking apart, mantling should be putting together. Well, as the old saying goes, etymologies can be deceiving.
On second thought, before asking anyone for help, you’d better make sure you’re heveled. I mean, if you can be disheveled—which is no good—surely you can be heveled, right? One can be kempt or unkempt, clean or unclean, honest or dishonest, so if one can be disheveled, it only seems fair that one should be able to rectify that situation and come out heveled. I’ll give it a try and let you know how it works out.
Where all these words are concerned, there’s an interesting layer of irony to “misnomer”. It’s not named very well. After all, you can’t have a nomer, so it seems misleading to have a misnomer. Clearly, if you were to change something’s or someone’s name to be more apt, you would have given it a nomer.
I realize, dear reader, that all of this may leave you somewhat nonplussed. But don’t you worry, a good night’s rest will leave you just as plussed as you can be. You’ll need that beauty sleep anyway, so you can be heveled, combobulated, and gruntled as you chalantly mantle answers to these questions:
If you’re not deluded, are you luded?
When you do something the first time, is that called a peat?
If someone is sane, are they ranged?
If someone is not insane, are they mented?
When it turns out that things don’t go wrong, isn’t it such a big appointment?
When you’re not worried and losing confidence, are you traught?
If something isn’t revolting to the senses, is it gusting?
On that note, the first time the people rise up in arms to overthrow their government, is it a volution?
…and the first time a door goes around, is it volving?
When you’re not saddened, are you mayed?
If something goes as planned, without interruption, is it rupted?
How does adding “ex” to “pensive” produce a word meaning “costly”?
The first time something is uncovered, has it been vealed?
Putting something in the fridge for the first time is called fridgerating it, right?
If someone relieves you, doesn’t that imply that at some point in the past, you were lieved to begin with?
You can reduce, deduce, induce, and even produce, but haven’t you ever wanted to just duce something for a change?
Well, if you can’t do that, perhaps you can at least fute something someone else has said, assuming you agree with them. And heaven knows, if you’re going to get into an argument, you’d better make their job difficult by starting off with a strong buttal.
And last but not least, as many have asked: if con is the opposite of pro, shouldn’t “congress” be the opposite of “progress”?
Alas, we cannot answer most of these questions. Fortunately, we do have an answer for the cran in “cranberries”. The berry’s name is derived from the old Germanic word kraanbere, which itself meant “crane berry”. Though the berries themselves are not crane-shaped, the plants on which they grow are. These are not industrial cranes, mind you; the reference is to the birds, the long, lean necks of which vaguely resemble the stems of the cranberry plant. Many of the original American colonists had referred to them as “bearberries” as they were favorite snacks of wild bears (and, along with wild blueberries, still are). Raspberries have a similar linguistic heritage. Basically, the “rasp” sounds vaguely like something that used to mean something in German quite some time ago… or, something like that. Gooseberries are another matter altogether. Even the Oxford English Dictionary—the last word, appropriately enough, in etymology—says that there really isn’t any known connection between fruits with animal names and the implied animals themselves. Personally, I think whoever came up with “gooseberry” as a name for anything must have been pretty luded.
Editor’s Note: This post was written by Mark Jacobs, an editor at The Jet Fuel Review. He is an Aviation major, but the left side of his brain is an avid writer. Mark is a sophomore and will be working a few hours as a tutor in the Writing Center in the 2011-2012 school year.