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"Lost positives"
PostPosted: Fri Nov 21, 2008 1:07 am Reply with quote
Joined: 23 Oct 2008
Posts: 136
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

In their podcast on Abridgment (which I've just gotten around to listening to), the Nerds talked about the concept of Lost Positives, words which are used mostly in the negative. While we can use "abridged" in many sentences, they claim we more often encounter it in the negative form, as in "unabridged dictionary."

I've heard many many examples given orally before but have longed to see a written list of other words which are almost never used without a negative prefix and thought I'd try to get that list started. Here goes:

• uncouth slob
• immaculate (from the Abridgment podcast)
• unimpeachable sources
• unmitigated gall
• unrequited love
• unmistakable signature
• inimitable character

By the way, does anyone else think it's funny that "abridge" is spelled with a final "e" but "abridgment" has that letter missing?
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 25, 2008 6:34 am Reply with quote
Joined: 08 Jun 2006
Posts: 357
Location: Washington, DC

Sounds like a candidate for a re-visitation.

The very first show Howard S. and I did together in 2005 was on lost positives. It was very early in the life of TWN, so we don't sound wonderful. But there we are.

We need to do it again now that we know what we're doing.

The Word Nerds, a podcast about language
Dave's Midlife Blog
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 25, 2008 11:49 am Reply with quote
Joined: 23 Oct 2008
Posts: 136
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Thanks for the link, Dave. I'm still catching up on podcasts, currently working through episodes in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Will eventually download TWN, The Naive Years. ;-)

I went online and found this article. the date is suspect, but I'll also attach the link for supersleuths to muck around with.,9171,890672,00.html

The Lost Positive
Monday, Sep. 21, 1953

I know a little man both ept and ert. And intro? extra? No, he's just a vert. Sheveled and couth and kempt, pecunious, ane; His image trudes upon the ceptive brain.

Rhymester David McCord is fascinated by what happened to the positive form of such common words as inept, inert, disheveled, uncouth and unkempt. For years, McCord, who is secretary of the Alumni Fund of Harvard University and a well-known writer of light verse, has waged a happy campaign for the restoration of what he calls the Lost Positive. For amusement he writes sprightly rhymes full of positives, like the one above (which he calls Gloss) published in the January Harper's Magazine.

Last week it looked as if McCord's campaign was getting somewhere. New York Herald Tribune Columnist John Crosby had "dorsed" the trend, proclaimed himself a member of the "Society for the Restoration of Lost Positives." Later, a smart copywriter for Gimbels picked up the idea, blazoned an eight-column ad for fall college fashions: "couth, kempt, sheveled . . . that's how college girls will look this fall."

But McCord was already ahead of them. Cloistered in his Harvard office, he was busy turning out more Lost Positives: licit, iterate, fulgent, prentice, placable, delible, souciant, effable, vertently, fangled, sponsible, pression, fatigable. McCord says he prefers real Lost Positives, but for fun sometimes uses false ones, such as pistle. "The prefix in that word is really not the Latin e but the Greek epi," he explains. This justified his reply to a friend who sent him a clipping with a note: "Lighted to ward the closed which is cised from day's Irish Times." McCord wrote back: "Pistle ceived and tents gladly noted."

McCord even got around to another Lost Positive verse which begins:

Some day, full of ertia, I'll be taking off for Persia.
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 25, 2008 12:44 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 23 Oct 2008
Posts: 136
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Okay, I did some more digging. Here is a famous (and humorously illustrative) article from The New Yorker many years ago.

How I met my wife
by Jack Winter; 25 July 1994; The New Yorker

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, 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 traveling 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 and 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 this 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 become 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.
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"Lost positives"
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