or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, March 27, 2006

Common Sense

Today there was an oddball coinage in this Slate article about billionaires. First, the setup:

On the Web site, there are convenient links to sermonettes in Forbes over the years about how the population explosion at the tippy-top of the wealth scale demonstrates the power of human gumption and the glory of the capitalist system.

And now, the oddball coinage:

While there are only a few outright crooks or sociopaths on the list, there are many whose accumulation of vast wealth, however gumptuous in method, does not fit the Adam Smith model of individual drive and greed being channeled into activities that benefit all.

I have no problem, of course, with Michael Kinsley's wanting to invent an adjectival form of "gumption". With its wealth of affixes, the English language positively encourages us to do so. What I can't understand is why he chose "gumptuous" over "gumptious", which I would have thought would be the more natural spelling.

The OED thinks so, too: it lists "gumptious" but not "gumptuous", which means that Kinsley, instead of checking to see whether a word he thought up actually existed--or, rather, that an existing word that met his need was available--just went ahead and used the made-up word, which is not usually the best tack to take.

I don't know why I felt that "gumptious" would be the better spelling: it was just a feeling. I'd certainly never seen the word before. There aren't many words that end in either "-ptious" (Morewords, not guaranteed to be complete, lists only "bumptious", "captious", and "scrumptious") or "-ptuous" (only "contemptuous", "presumptuous", "sumptuous", and "voluptuous"). The OED suggests that "gumptious" was formed as a parallel to "bumptious", but Answers.com thinks that "bumptious" is a sort of hybrid of "bump" and "presumptuous", in which case why didn't we get "bumptuous" instead? Because "-ious" is by far the more common English suffix. We got "voluptuous", "sumptuous", and "presumptuous" from the French (but not "contemptuous", which came from the Latin), and all of this in aggregate suggests that the adjectival form of "gumption"--which is Scots, by the way--ought not to end in "-uous".

Which, in fact, it doesn't.


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