Daily Archives: March 23, 2009

disgruntled

“So how come there’s no gruntled, huh?” Well, guess what: there is, disused as it may be. Just look in the Oxford English Dictionary. But don’t expect gruntle to mean the opposite of disgruntle: the dis is here (as more often in Latin formations but occasionally in Anglo-Saxon ones of dispersion or undoing) an intensifier and perhaps signifier of direction, not a negater. Grunt, the root, is an onomatopoeic word for that noise hogs make. The le is a frequentative suffix, as we see in suckle, sidle, and a number of other English words. So gruntle is “utter a low grunt” and, for people, “grumble, complain.” And disgruntle could be read as “cause to go gruntling away” – or, more plainly, “piss off,” a sense it’s had as long as it’s existed. The form works well enough with the sense: the grunting, grumbling sound (with that classic animal gr), combined with the negativity and hiss of dis, and the disintegrative echoes of dismantled. And what sort of person is most often said to be disgruntled? Employees – especially former employees – and workers (need I mention that they are archetypally postal workers)? But also customers, fans, students, and even officers and voters, according to the Corpus of Contemporary American English. And we know that disgruntled people, especially former employees and postal workers, don’t always stop at mere grumbling and grunting. In fact, this word, over time, has taken on an ominous, even baleful tinge, so that its use even flippantly can make one feel like diving behind a desk.

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