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Don't Worry, Be Gruntled

Words that only have negative connotations.

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

Page 3 of 3

“Out of Whack”

Now we’ll leave the “dis-” words and our dictionaries as well. They weren’t much use when I faced Glenn’s last conundrum: the phrase “out of whack,” which means "not functioning correctly." I had to go to the Internet to solve that mystery. I found an interesting site all about the English language, World Wide Words, hosted by Michael Quinion. (3) The “out of whack” page, which was actually working quite well, explains that in the nineteenth century, “There seems to have been a phrase ‘in fine whack,’ meaning that something was in good condition or excellent fettle.”

Apparently, someone by the name of John Hay described President Lincoln by saying, “The Tycoon is in fine whack.” Although this is not a very common phrase, it’s easy to see how “out of whack” could be the opposite of “in fine whack.” You can read more wacky details about “out of whack” on Quinion’s site. You could also probably spend hours there learning about other odd phrases. For example, I learned what “bafflegab” is. (4)

That’s about it for negative words that have no positive counterpart. Our language is filled with remnants of older forms of English. If you’re ever feeling disgruntled about anything, just nonchalantly distract yourself by reading your dictionary.

Administrative

This podcast was written by Bonnie Trenga, author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier, who blogs at sentencesleuth.blogspot.com.

References

1. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006, p. 518.

2. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006, p. 514.

3. Michael Quinion, “Out of Whack,” World Wide Words, April 13, 2002, http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-out2.htm (accessed June 4, 2013).

4. Michael Quinion, “Bafflegab,” World Wide Words, June 25, 2005, http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-baf1.htm (accessed June 4, 2013).

 

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