The case of the disappearing ‘dis’

When I first met DH, he owned just about every Robert Heinlein book ever written. Being a huge fan of fantasy and lighter SciFi at the time, I dived right in. Bliss!

What I love about Heinlein’s books are his strong female protagonists. His characters’ attitudes toward religion, sexuality, marriage, and even the right to terminate your own life, seemed revolutionary to me at the time. Not that I endorsed them, necessarily, but I was certainly fascinated by the way they were embraced in Heinlein’s fictional worlds.

Plus there was his clever use of language, of course. He could set a scene so that the reader knew, unequivocally, that this was a futuristic world in as little as three words.

Don’t believe me?

How about this? The door dilated.

Honestly, I’ve ashamed to say I haven’t read Heinlein in so long that I can’t remember which book this quote is from, but I’ve always remembered the quote. Don’t know ’bout you, but for me, that conjured up a perfectly round door that split in two, with the upper half smoothly and soundlessly retracting upward into a recessed area in the wall, and the lower half retracting downward into the floor. And, twenty-odd years ago when I first read Heinlein at least, you didn’t get doors like that *g*

Another concept or theme I’ll always remember from reading Heinlein is this: the level of politeness used by a society’s members, and the way that the society treats its elderly, is a rather accurate indicator of whether the society is on the way up and thriving, or heading down that slippery slope toward disintegration and disaster. IMO, that has often proven true. But the reason I’m bringing up Heinlein today, is not to get into a heavy discussion about the often controversial social themes he integrated into his stories, but because his books introduced me to one of my all-time favorite words.

The English language is fond of its prefixes, e.g. able/disable/enable,  believe/disbelieve,  cede/precede etc. And at primary school, I remember being taught that prefixes have a meaning all of their own that could help me figure out the meaning of the new word that had been modified by the prefix. The prefix “dis” for instance, I was told generally meant “not, or “the reverse of the action”.

Neat! Of course it always helped if you knew the meaning of the root word the prefix was modifying in the first place, right?

So imagine when I came across this word in a Heinlein book: gruntled.

It was obvious from the context what it meant, even if I hadn’t known that it had to be the opposite of disgruntled.

So, with a nod to the great Robert Heinlein, here’s this week’s Word Of The Week:

GRUNTLED: adjective — Pleased , satisfied (colloquial)

Maybe you could try it out next time you’re introduced to someone. Shake their hand and say, “I’m gruntled to meet you.” Should be worth a startled expression–and hopefully a smile or two once their brain has done the switch from the well-known “disgruntled”.

And I’ll leave you with this quote:

“Women and cats will do as they please and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.”
Robert A. Heinlein



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