Not-gormless again

As I have posted before, gormless is one of those strange inherently negative words with no positive counterpart. In that post, I included a picture of a restaurant at Copenhagen airport called Gorm’s. https://languagemiscellany.com/2021/08/can-you-negate-the-word-gormless/

I’ve recently found out a possible reason for using that name in Denmark. Denmark was ruled from about 936 to 1042 by the royal House of Gorm.

Unsurprisingly, the dynasty got its name from the king Gorm the Old (Gorm den Gamle). His successors were Harald Bluetooth (Harald Blåtand), Sweyn Forkbeard (Svend Tveskæg), Harald II (Harald Svendsen), Cnut [or Canute] the Great (Knud den Store, Knud II) and Harthacnut (Hardeknud III or Cnut III).

Sweyn Forkbeard, Canute and Harthacnut were also kings of England.

Find out or discover?

In drafting this piece, I first wrote that I had discovered that Gorm was the name of this dynasty. On reflection, I changed discovered to found out.

I think discovering a fact implies that the fact was unknown to all humankind— or at least to some large and contextually salient sub-group of humankind, such as people from the same region. This implication explains why, for example, groups indigenous to the Americas find it offensive to say that Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas.

On the other hand, finding a fact out implies only that the fact was unknown to the person doing the finding out. Columbus found the Americas, and in doing so he found out that they existed. Columbus did not previously know that they existed, but of course indigenous inhabitants knew this already.

Similarly, I recently found out that the House of Gorm exists. But I did not make a discovery: the existence of the Gorms must have already been well known to anyone who knows about Danish history.

One comment

  1. Your comment that gormless is one of those inherently negative words that has no positive counterpart encouraged me to try to think of others. Actually, if I may reveal my own gormlessness, I skipped the thinking by searching the Internet to find what others had to say about such words.

    Well, I struck the motherlode. I found a YouTube video called ‘The mysterious case of the “lost positive”’. That video has no fewer than 476,000 views!

    Among the lost positives (aka orphaned negatives) it identifies are these:

    Unkempt.

    Ruthless.

    Disgruntled.

    Feckless.

    Nonchalant.

    Uncouth.

    Inept.

    Incessant.

    Unwieldy.

    Ineffable.

    Unruly.

    Innocent.

    Immaculate.

    Inevitable.

    Indefatigable.

    With considerable humour, the video points out that many of these lost positives aren’t lost at all – merely outmoded in 21st century English. YouTube provides an opportunity for people to post comments on videos. Many of the commenters on ‘The mysterious case of the “lost positive”’ swore that they themselves have heard, read, learnt, or even used such lost positives as kempt, chalant, couth, cessant, nocent, wieldy, feckfull, defatigable, and ruthful.

    In conclusion, may I also point out that one can be grammatically overwhelmed or underwhelmed or – as this video argues – whelmed.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *