Monday, July 26, 2021

Listless and listful

English lacks a number of what could be quite useful words, particularly in the suffix departments labelled, ‘ful’ and ‘less.’ (That’s ‘full’ to people in the USA.)

Just to take an example, think of the word, ‘wrongful.’  We use this in relation to a person being unjustly arrested. Surely the word should be ‘wrongless.’  If you’ve done nothing wrong, then how can your arrest be described as wrong-ful?

We think of certain kinds of marriage as ‘loveless.’ Why then don’t we call those marriages that last for 50 or 60 years – you know the Darby and Joan kind that get reported in the paper – as ‘loveful?’ What about the person who wins several prizes at once in Lotto? Isn’t he luckful? (If ever I have occasion to possess a Lotto ticket, I can always be described by the more familiar luckless.) 

And don’t we often wish politicians were more speechless than speechful, and would let us have a truthful earful? 

Isn’t it curious that we describe certain kinds of sunless rooms as airless, when in fact only a vacuum can be airless. All rooms are airful, though not all are sunful. 

One of the most commonly used adjectives is ‘awful,’ which is a shortened form of what used to be a word of great strength: ‘awe-full’, meaning full of awe. It would be far more accurate to describe most awful things these days by its opposite. We should be using that awkward little squashed down word, ‘awless.’  

Turning to another awless area of life, dentists must be pleased that we are toothful rather than toothless. Equally chiropodists should be pleased with footful people – even if they are wearing footless tights or fingerless gloves. (Actually haven’t you thought how much more couth it would be to give someone a fingerful rather than a fistful? Though I’m usually pretty fistless when it comes to such occasions.) 

I’m sure the peaceful would like to see a lot more hateless people around them, while most mothers would be grateful for willess children, rather than grateless and wilful ones (when you use the word ‘willess’ however, you can see why it’s never really made the grade. And should it be spelt with two ‘l’s or three?) 

Actually I was being truthless when I said I’d made a lengthy study of this matter. These endful curiosities first distracted me in the middle of listening one morning at church to an otherwise interesting sermon. 

It was there that I saw that we’ve managed to retain some twin words. Even in our less than Godful society we still have sinful and sinless, faithful and faithless, graceful and graceless, joyful and joyless, fearful and fearless. 

How come all these kept their opposites, when lustful has no lustless, or topless no topful, or bottomless no bottomful? (The mind boggles.) 

I guess they were successful instead of successless. 

PS.   Thanks for my daughter’s listful help. 

This was originally published on a now defunct site, Triond. 

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