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Word sans-prefix is word no more?
March 23, 2012 10:44 AM   Subscribe

What are some English words that contain a prefix, but the root is either not a word or is substantially unrelated to the prefixed word?

My friends and I were talking wondering this question earlier. For example, the word disgruntle with out the prefix is gruntle, which is basically the opposite of disgruntled. We are looking for words in the form of [prefix][root] where [root] has nothing or little to do with the prefixed word.

The closest we have, kind of, is "overwhelm" or "underwhelm", but the root, whelm seems at least pretty related to the word itself. Words that are basically associated with their prefixed word and where the root fallen out of favor with modern English are welcome too (I think [dis]gruntle falls into that category)
posted by Geppp to Writing & Language (36 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Disheveled. I say "sheveled" all the time.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:46 AM on March 23, 2012


Previously.
posted by griphus at 10:47 AM on March 23, 2012


I think what you're looking for are unpaired words.
posted by punchtothehead at 10:47 AM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


As is so often the case, my mind turns to an old Seinfeld episode and the word "debunked." Also, "behooved."

In most cases if you dig into the etymology the word parts make sense... it's just that they are so old that the original sense has long since been lost.
posted by ErikaB at 10:48 AM on March 23, 2012


Inflammable is kind of the opposite of this, but it still might please your search for words where the prefix doesn't really do what it ought to.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:49 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nonplussed.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:53 AM on March 23, 2012


When appropriate, I have been "exactly whelmed" by something.
posted by gauche at 10:53 AM on March 23, 2012


... although now, after looking at the definition, I suppose I've been using "exactly whelmed" incorrectly to mean "neither over- nor under-whelmed" when I should have said "underwhelmed".

As I'm reading it, if you're whelmed you're overwhelmed.
posted by gauche at 10:57 AM on March 23, 2012


If you want to debate something, you can hold a congress. You may soon find yourself making progress. But you should be careful not to digress, or else you might have to go all the way back to the beginning and regress. When you're done, you can leave through the egress.

I have no idea what "gress" means.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:00 AM on March 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have no idea what "gress" means.

'S Latin. Gradior, gradi, gressus. Means "walk" or "step.' We also get "grade", "gradient", and a whole other host of words out of it.
posted by gauche at 11:03 AM on March 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


You're looking for root bound morphemes. My favorite one is 'fer'. But perhaps it's making a comeback.

fer sure.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:04 AM on March 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I particularly like molish, beloved of uk.rec.sheds, silly endearing procrastinating sophists that they are.
posted by ambrosen at 11:06 AM on March 23, 2012


"Uncanny" (eerie, mysterious) seems completely unrelated to "canny" (clever, shrewd), but if you look at their etymologies, it makes sense.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:07 AM on March 23, 2012


My favorite one is 'fer'.

Again, Latin. And this time with so many meanings originally that it's likely to be all over the place in English.
posted by gauche at 11:09 AM on March 23, 2012


Uncouth. (I had to write an essay using all definitions of this word from the OED when I was in ninth grade, IIRC. It was...interesting.)
posted by blurker at 11:12 AM on March 23, 2012


... but of course you know that, iamkimiam.
posted by gauche at 11:15 AM on March 23, 2012


Vert.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:20 AM on March 23, 2012


dismantled, what the hell is mantling?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:21 AM on March 23, 2012


I hope the answers to this question leave you combobulated.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 11:22 AM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fero ferre tuli latus!

I think you'll find this to be the case with many of our Latin-derived words (though the root may appear in other forms--think in-spire, ex-spire, per-spire, though "spire" itself doesn't mean what it should on its own, e.g., breathe).

I think it's interesting to devise words that should be by swapping the appropriate prefixes. Ad- is towards, and ab- is from (generally speaking). Thus, if advocate is to support a position by speaking/calling "towards" that position (ad + vocare), shouldn't arguing against a position be abvocating? And, if you're simply rambling in no particular direction (as I am right now), you're just vocating.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:22 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


distill has no relation to tilling
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:22 AM on March 23, 2012


perceive, receive, conceive, deceive − ceive?
perception, reception, conception, deception − ception?
permit, submit, remit − mit?
dismiss − miss?
digress, regress, transgress, aggressive − gress, gressive?
institute, substitute − stitute?

There are a bunch of these from Latin where prefixed forms have been borrowed but not the root. And there are a lot of cases where the root vowel mutates in Latin when a prefix is added, so even if an unprefixed form of the root is used it's not the same. (The -cieve and -ception words come from the same root as "capture", "captive" and "caption", the -stitute words from the word stare "stand".)

And, yeah, on preview, "fer" is another great example.
posted by nangar at 11:24 AM on March 23, 2012


delivery
livery is another word for uniform so is to deliver to take off your clothes?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:24 AM on March 23, 2012


distill has no relation to tilling

No, but it's a process of separating tiny droplets, or stillae, of a pure substance out of a mixture. Most of these words do have real roots in Latin or Greek or OE or ME. Whether they are examples of the sort of thing the OP is asking about, I have no idea.
posted by gauche at 11:28 AM on March 23, 2012


This issue is actually a running theme through a great YA novel called The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. Many of the answers here are in the book.
posted by bove at 11:30 AM on March 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


delivery
livery is another word for uniform so is to deliver to take off your clothes?


No, no, no. It's obviously (obv i ous ly) just derived (i.e. taken away from whatever it is a river does) from deliver, i.e. to remove (move again) a liver.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:32 AM on March 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


sorry -- ob vi ous ly, obviously.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:33 AM on March 23, 2012


If I understand what you're looking for, you can find more words of the sort by consulting this story.
posted by faustdick at 11:46 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Inchoate is an example, but the legal profession has long treated choate as meaning the opposite of inchoate. Justice Scalia dissapproves.
posted by Sock Ray Blue at 12:19 PM on March 23, 2012


The Modern Jazz Quartet, or was it the Johnny Dankworth Seven, was famously described as "couth, kempt and shevelled".
posted by verstegan at 12:37 PM on March 23, 2012


For a suffix example, gormless might do it. (The OED gives gome as the non-suffix version, but it's long gone.)

bespoke, but it's a bit of a stretch, as bespeak and speak do go together reasonable well. (Though, apparently, reading the OED, bespeak can coincide with both the German besprechen and versprechen.)

Coincidentally, the OED does have couth and certainly kempt exists as "well-kempt".
posted by hoyland at 12:52 PM on March 23, 2012


I think it's funny that "university" is kind of the opposite, etymologically, of "diversity." And we rarely speak of any other sort of versity.
posted by richyoung at 1:11 PM on March 23, 2012


inept
posted by Capri at 5:42 PM on March 23, 2012


Innocent and innocuous fall into the root-falling-out-of-favor category. How often do you hear someone described as nocent or nocuous?
posted by solotoro at 6:04 PM on March 23, 2012


And we rarely speak of any other sort of versity.

Not so! To ignore adversity is truly perversity.
posted by solotoro at 6:07 PM on March 23, 2012


substantially unconnected? Well, prefix is only loosely connected to fix, so I think your post may be reflexive.

Or perhaps even redundant. Or dundant.
posted by Mad_Carew at 7:44 PM on March 23, 2012


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