If not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.
- P. G. Wodehouse
- P. G. Wodehouse
I'm sure we're all familiar with the word "disgruntled". We've probably all been disgruntled far too many times to be ignorant of it. This is one of those odd words that, when you pause to think about it, doesn't seem to make much sense. After all, have you ever described yourself or anyone around you as "gruntled"?
Given this apparent lack of logical continuity we might be tempted to think of "disgruntled" as one of those sad orphan negatives - words that only exist in the negative form and have no positive counterpart. This would make P.G. Wodehouse's humorous quote seem like an act of kindness. His back-formation of "gruntle" would seem to create a family for the lonely word "disgruntle", but in fact this is not the case.
"Gruntle" was a word and it didn't mean "to put in a good humor." (The definition created by Wodehouse and other authors of his time. A definition which has since been accepted into dictionaries.)
"Gruntle" actually meant "grumble" or … "grunt".
"Disgruntle" isn't a negative, or opposite at all. In fact, the "dis" in "disgruntle" means "entirely" or "very". So, if you are "disgruntled" you are actually very "gruntled".
Nowadays nobody uses "gruntle" much, it's somewhat the forgotten relation of "disgruntle". This is, perhaps, a good thing since its meaning is now so unclear. But go ahead and throw it out in conversation sometime, just for fun. And if someone accuses you of making up a word, now you'll know better.
Remember though, if you think your family tree is a little obscure or that it hides one or two skeletons, none of them probably compare to the convoluted and skeleton-ridden family tree of the word "disgruntle" whose father "gruntle" is also its son.