Correcting my limitless lack of knowledge, one post at a time.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Disgruntled Employee Kills 8, Self in Connecticut
Sadly, this is the kind of headline that no one who even glances at a newspaper can be unfamiliar with, and this is not just an example, unfortunately this one was real. But I found myself wondering when I saw it just exactly what disgruntled could possibly mean in this context. Aggrieved? Resentful? Full of primal rage? Or just peeved? The more I thought about it, the less I knew about the meaning of this word, its origins or its proper use.
Of course it means at its most basic level "not gruntled". Has anyone ever heard of someone being gruntled, though? If gruntled is good, it can not possibly have a connection to "grunt", which is the only association I can make. Without further ado, then, let's see what it means...
Well, originally I was a bit disgruntled with the results, but I think that I've finally got some kind of a handle on this. "Disgruntled" is one of several words that have a missing opposite root word--not necessarily never there, but vanished from our vocabulary if so. (Interestingly, P.G. Wodehouse managed to let Jeeves bring it almost singlehandedly back into the language, which would be well nigh impossible if it were anyone but Jeeves. You can read an interesting piece on this here.)
A new piece of information for me in a general sense was that dis-, though usually signifying "a lack of" something--disgrace, disgust, distaste-- can occasionally act as an intensifier of something bad already. So "disgruntled" doesn't mean "not gruntled", but extremely gruntled. Hence the "disgruntled employee kills" trope.
But originally (sorry, P.G.) "gruntled" just indicated the repeated action of grunting. And on second thoughts, grunting doesn't always necessarily signify complaint. But perhaps I'm taking this too far afield...