Is Justice Scalia Wrong? Gruntled Is A Word!

This morning, I discussed an ABA Journal article, wherein Justice Scalia chastised an advocate for making up the word choate. To article reports

As Barnhouse tried to move on, Scalia offered an example. “It’s like ‘gruntled,’ ” he said.

“Exactly. ‘Disgruntled,’ ” Scalia said. Some people mistakenly assume the opposite of “disgruntled” is “gruntled,” he explained.

Well it seems Scalia may be wrong. Josh House, a GW 1L, and an astute commenter, pointed out that gruntled is in fact a word:

Interestingly enough, Scalia is wrong about “gruntled”. Oxford dictionary says it means “pleased, satisfied” – the word was derived from disgruntled in the 1930s.

Oxford English Dictionary Confirms, gruntled seems to be the opposite of disgruntled.

Definition: Pleased, satisfied, contented.

1938 WODEHOUSE Code of Woosters i. 9 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.

1962 C. ROHAN Delinquents 76 Come on, Brownie darling, be gruntled. 1966 New Statesman 11 Nov. 693/2 An action against a barrister for negligence..would open the door to every disgruntled client. Now gruntled clients are rare in the criminal courts. 1967 E. MCGIRR Hearse with Horses i. 17 The Agency has a nice file of gruntled exes who have found their talents in a great variety of jobs.
Is Justice Scalia wrong?
Update: I emailed this question to one of my favorite Law Professors who specializes in etymology and the history of words. His response:
Gruntled is indeed in the dictionary, as the opposite of disgruntled.  But it’s pretty clearly not idiomatic, as a Google search shows.  So it’s not a mistake to assume that there is a word “gruntled” that’s the opposite of “disgruntled.”  But it is a mistake to assume that there is such a word in common usage, and especially in common serious usage (since “gruntled” as the opposite of “disgruntled” has a humorous connotation, I think).
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3 Responses to “Is Justice Scalia Wrong? Gruntled Is A Word!”

  1. Andrew Lane Says:

    From Merriam-Webster:
    “Gruntle” is the result of a mistaken assumption about the verb “disgruntle,” which means “to make ill-humored or discontented.” The prefix “dis-” often means “to do the opposite of,” so people naturally assumed that in order to have a “disgruntle” there must be a “gruntle” with exactly the opposite meaning. But actually, “dis-” doesn’t always work that way in some rare cases it functions instead as an intensifier. “Disgruntle” developed from this intensifying sense of “dis-” plus “gruntle,” an old word meaning “to grumble.” “Gruntle” began to mean “to make happy” only in the 1920s, when it was assumed to be the antonym of “disgruntle.” By contrast, “disgruntle” has been around since 1682, and the original grumbling “gruntle” dates back to 1589.

    • Josh Blackman Says:

      Thanks for the insight. So from an Originalist perspective, if a word was not in common parlance during the time of the Founding, it is not a word? lol.

  2. troll_dc2 Says:

    Regardless of what people thought in 1589, it appears that there is a word “gruntle” today and that it means the opposite of “disgruntle.” See http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&source=hp&q=gruntled+definition&aq=0&oq=gruntled&aqi=g10

    The word “suffer” in those days meant “allow.” Would Scalia complain about its present misuse as well?

    Frankly, should not this little dust-up cause those of you who revere this know-it-all jurist to reconsider even a little bit?


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