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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fun with negative words and phrases: "How I Met My Wife"

English has a number of "lonely negatives"--words (usually adjectives) that have negative or uncomplimentary meanings. They usually appear to be formed by adding a negative or intensifying prefix to a positive word, but the positive word is either never used or very rarely used.

In the story below, "How I Met My Wife," how many of these "lonely negatives" are represented by their rare or nonexistent positive partners?

In addition to the negative words, the story includes several negative phrases--that is, colloquial phrases that are built around a negative word or prefix such as "no" or "un-" or "neither." Example from the story below: "make [NO] bones about it" and "[UN]heard of."

Enjoy! And if you like, write to me with as many of the lonely negatives as you can find.

(I found the term "lonely negative" here. Need some hints?--see the link at the bottom of the page.)



"How I Met My Wife"

Jack Winter, The New Yorker, July 25, 1994. (Source.)

It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate.

I was furling my wieldy umbrella for the coat check when I saw her standing alone in a corner. She was a descript person, a woman in a state of total array. Her hair was kempt, her clothing shevelled, [or should that be hevelled?—BES] and she moved in a gainly way.

I wanted desperately to meet her, but I knew I'd have to make bones about it, since I was travelling cognito. Beknownst to me, the hostess, whom I could see both hide and hair of, was very proper, so it would be skin off my nose if anything bad happened. And even though I had only swerving loyalty to her, my manners couldn't be peccable. Only toward and heard-of behavior would do.

Fortunately, the embarrassment that my maculate appearance might cause was evitable.

There were two ways about it, but the chances that someone as flappable as I would be ept enough to become persona grata or a sung hero were slim. I was, after all, something to sneeze at, someone you could easily hold a candle to, someone who usually aroused bridled passion.

So I decided not to risk it. But then, all at once, for some apparent reason, she looked in my direction and smiled in a way that I could make heads or tails of.

I was plussed. It was concerting to see that she was communicado, and it nerved me that she was interested in a pareil like me, sight seen. Normally, I had a domitable spirit, but, being corrigible, I felt capacitated—as if there were something I was great shakes at—and forgot that I had succeeded in situations like this only a told number of times. So, after a terminable delay, I acted with mitigated gall and made my way through the ruly crowd with strong givings.

Nevertheless, since this was all new hat to me and I had no time to prepare a promptu speech, I was petuous. Wanting to make only called-for remarks, I started talking about the hors d'oeuvres, trying to abuse her of the notion that I was sipid, and perhaps even bunk a few myths about myself.

She responded well, and I was mayed that she considered me a savory character who was up to some good. She told me who she was. "What a perfect nomer," I said, advertently. The conversation became more and more choate, and we spoke at length to much avail. But I was defatigable, so I had to leave at a godly hour. I asked if she wanted to come with me. To my delight, she was committal. We left the party together and have been together ever since. I have given her my love, and she has requited it.



See the list of words supplied by Adam Merberg at this page.