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Don't Worry, Be Gruntled

Words that only have negative connotations.

By
Bonnie Mills, read by Mignon Fogarty,
June 6, 2013
Episode #370

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Don't Worry, Be Gruntled

Today, guest writer Bonnie Trenga is going to tell us why we’re rarely “gruntled,” “sheveled,” or “in whack,” but why we are often “disgruntled,” “disheveled,” and “out of whack.”

Bonnie says,

Thanks to interesting questions from Glenn, we’ll be talking about words or phrases that have only a negative connotation; there is no opposite word with a positive connotation (with one exception). These negative words might seem a bit wacky, but we’ll look back at the origins of English to discover why..

Negative Prefixes

Let’s start with “disheveled.” In this case, the “dis-” prefix adds a negative element. Other negative prefixes are “non-,” “un,” and “in-” (which changes to “il-,” “im-,” and “ir-” before certain letters). You can also sometimes make something negative by putting “anti-” in front of it. You simply add the prefix to the stem word to create a new word that has a negative connotation.

You can add these prefixes to the beginning of nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs to make them negative. So you could take the stem word “honest” and add the prefix “dis-” to get “dishonest.” Likewise, take the stem word “happiness” and add the prefix “un-” to come up with “unhappiness.” You get the idea.

Many words starting with “dis-,” such as “disability,” “disapprove,” and “disagreeing,” have corresponding positive words: “ability,” “approve,” and “agreeing.” However, “disheveled” does not have a corresponding positive word. You aren’t heveled.

Next: "Disheveled," "Disaster," and "Insipid"

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