New Hat to Me.

I’ve chuckled at Jack Winter’s brilliant “How I Met My Wife” (originally in the July 25, 1994, New Yorker) a number of times over the years, but apparently I’ve never posted about it, so here it is:

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 travelling 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 or 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 there 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 became 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.

Thanks, Jack!


  1. I join you in paraging it.

  2. The phenomenon is called “restoring lost positives” and if you wish to participate, you can join the Society for the Restoration of Lost Positives (

  3. cuchuflete says

    What a praved piece of prose. Tis worthy of little spect and much dain.

  4. I have occasionally wondered what relation, if any, there existed between this text and another, earlier restored lost positive in another piece of cultural Americana, the opening crawl of the 1987 movie “Spaceballs”, where one finds the fine line “Unbeknownst to the princess, but knownst to us”. I still remember wondering why it was “knownst” and not *”beknownst”, incidentally.

  5. “The Lost Positive”, Time, 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.

  6. The master of the genre in verse form was Felicia Lamport, to whom we owe,

    Men often pursue in suitable style
    The imical girl with the scrutable smile.


    Many a new little life is begot
    By the hibited man with the promptu plot

    (Take that, Ogden Nash.)

  7. David Marjanović says

    That story reads much more hinged than I expected.




    No, intruded contains the other in-.



    opening crawl

    Ending in: “If you can read this, you don’t need glasses.”

    another piece of cultural Americana

    Spaceballs is world literature.

  8. ktschwarz says

    Larry Horn is a big fan of the Jack Winter piece and used it in exams and exercises, asking students to identify the linguistic terminology that it illustrates. (Back-formation and negative polarity items used in the absence of a trigger.)

  9. While I was searching to try to remember Lamport’s name, I ran into the following, by Morris Bishop:

    I lately lost a preposition.
    It hid, I thought, beneath my chair.
    And angrily I cried, “Perdition!
    Up from out of in under there!”

    Correctness is my vade mecum,
    And straggling phrases I abhor,
    And yet I wondered, “What should he come
    Up from out of in under there for?”

  10. licit, iterate, fulgent, prentice, placable, delible, souciant, effable, vertently, fangled, sponsible, pression, fatigable

    I don’t understand how half of those are even supposed to be false lost positives.

  11. I don’t pay attention to such juvenility. I’m a gormful, feckful creant.

  12. “Licit”, “iterate” and “prentice”, at least, aren’t even lost.

  13. January First-of-May says

    I don’t understand how half of those are even supposed to be false lost positives.

    …now that I think about it, “iterate” is surely just “literate” (which is in no way lost) misparsed by someone who wasn’t quite sure how the prefixes work.

    “Licit” is rarer but still extant IIRC. “Vertently” was too simplified; “advertently” is IIRC a real word. “Pression” is the wrong prefix. “Prentice” and “sponsible” doesn’t seem to even be the right kind of prefix.

  14. This is an elaboration of a joke Wodehouse made 50-some years earlier (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

    “He spoke with a certain what-is-it in his voice, and I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”
    P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters (1938).

    Gruntle, BTW, is a real word. It is the frequentative of grunt – generally applied to pigs, but also to other animals and occasionally to people. A gruntling is a piglet.
    According to a google ngram and google book search, these were always rare, perhaps mainly Scottish, and they more or less disappeared in the mid-19th century.

  15. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Illiterate has two ls – I think it’s ‘reiterate’ to go with ‘responsible. Although I agree that they’re not all negatives (and you can iterate once).

  16. January First-of-May says

    Illiterate has two ls

    Indeed; I thought it was divided as “ill-iterate”, and hadn’t thought of “reiterate” as a possible option.

    (I think I might actually be more familiar with “iterate” – in the programming sense – than “reiterate”).

  17. CuConnacht says

    Just a week or two ago I saw the headline “Democrats in array.” And googling just now to see if I could remind myself of where I had seen it, I see that it has been used recently by lots of people, perhaps independently of each other, perhaps not.

  18. David Marjanović says

    It’s a reference to the fact that Politico publishes a lot of articles that are fairly characterized as “DID” (“Democrats in Disarray”).

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