I was just thinking about the peculiarities of languages, and how we can know some words, even in our native language, but don’t fully understand their parts. For example, I was just thinking about the word haplessunlucky, luckless, unfortunate. I got to wondering – if the word hapless exists, where’s hapful? And, for that matter, what exactly is a hap? Hapful doesn’t exist, obviously (but seriously, why not?), but apparently hap does, and I just didn’t know its meaning. As a noun, it means one’s luck or lot. I found it odd that even though I could use hapless in a sentence, and could understand it if I heard it or read it, had you asked me what a hap was, I couldn’t have told you.

This page has some other interesting language quandaries. Why, for example, can you be clueless but not clueful? Feckless but not feckful? (Feck, by the way, means worth or value, and originates from a Scottish dialect). Surprisingly, while I’ve never heard or read it, ruthful exists as a counterpart to ruthless, meaning compassionate or sorrowful.

Are there any words that have struck you in a similar way, whether in your native language or otherwise?

By |2012-10-02T13:08:43+00:00October 2nd, 2012|Language Learning|3 Comments


  1. Confused Laowai October 3, 2012 at 5:15 am - Reply

    For me the interesting cases in English are where known morphemes are inconsistent with their forming with the root word. Like you said, above.

    My favourite example is “repeat”. What is “peat”?

    But “re” in “retry”, means to repeat your “try” for instance. So the “re” morpheme prefix is associated doing the action again.

    I just like that “re” in “repeat” might actually be referring to itself. Like a weird infinite loop.

    • Josh October 3, 2012 at 10:42 am - Reply

      “Repeat” is a pretty good example. Throw in the fact that it’s a bit different from its corresponding noun, repetition, and it’s quite the rule breaker.

  2. Christy October 19, 2012 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    Really enjoyed this post as well as the links. Thanks.

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