Lost positives

Mark A Mandel mam at THEWORLD.COM
Wed Jan 30 00:52:09 UTC 2002

On Tue, 29 Jan 2002, Paul McFedries wrote:

#A correspondent asked me if I knew where he could find a list of lost
#postives (such as gruntled, kempt, and sheveled). Since (if I understand the
#term correctly) you can just make up any old lost positive by chopping off
#an existing word's negative prefix, then a complete list would be silly.

I think you may be missing the point. If the decapitation yields a word
that is in the current vocabulary with the expected meaning, the
positive isn't lost. E.g., every native speaker analyzes "unhappy" as
the negative of the equally familiar "happy", so it's not of interest to
your correspondent.

The interesting ones are those such as "(un)beknownst" and the ones you
mention, whose de-negated forms are *not* part of modern English.

-- Mark A. Mandel
   Linguist at Large

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