P G (Pelham Grenville) Wodehouse in The Code of the Woosters (1938) wrote: ‘I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.’
Frightfully witty, this wordplay with a linguistic fossil, what? Thanks, Plum. Our language contains a shirtload of ‘em: remnants from a bygone age, like the above-mentioned, often surviving only in negative usage. One can be ruthless, reckless and uncouth but does one ever dress peccably? Is one gusted? Or pecunious? Or effable? Or gainly? We’ve delved into some of these in a previous blog. Such words lack a certain gorm. Bertie Wooster might describe them as far from sufferable.
But there are other words and phrases that have lingered long past the use-by of their original context. Some have been in circulation since time immemorial. Without further ado, and no need for bated breath, let’s explore a few.
An eke name long ago evolved into a nickname but we retain the word eke as in eking out a living. It means to accomplish or obtain with difficulty. Hither meant nearby or adjacent but these days it survives in the phrase hither and thither, the latter meaning a distant place. We still run amok. We still bandy words and talk of bandy legs, without recourse to a dictionary.
Though we no longer respond to a beck, the word survives in beck and call. If a villain gets what’s coming to him we don’t want the rascal enjoying some tasty after-dinner sweet or hanging around a parched wilderness just because we’ve wished him his just deserts. We might be in high dudgeon or taking umbrage. Retribution might even be in the offing (that is, the future). We don’t have to take heed of or pay heed to or be heedless of such a well-nigh impossible undertaking. We may draw nigh or come hither or sally forth, all without let or hindrance. We can grab that rascal by the scruff of the neck, cut him to the quick, or even be an accessory before the fact. Rather than giving the fellow short shrift I might unleash the whole shebang. Or I could use sleight of hand to wreak havoc, as they did in days of yore. I might wend my way, riding roughshod either to and fro or else helter skelter. I might even raise a hue and cry and wreak havoc but it wouldn’t make a jot of difference. Come what may, we should let bygones be bygones for our hypothetical villain. Not his fault if I have an ulterior motive in exploiting this fellow wrought from imagination. If I had my druthers I’d never have conjured him up. Good riddance.