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Uncomfortable

October 15, 2006

Did you know the word comfortable is a malapropism? It looks like it has a root meaning something like “able to comfort” or “able to be comforted/find comfort,” but it’s actually based on an archaic German word, kumpfturbol, which itself has a Dutch root. That old word is actually a noun meaning something that gives comfort, like a curative is something that cures. The -able on the end of it is the clue here. Think about it: when you’re comfortable, you’re not able to find comfort, you’ve actually already found it. But we have no other common way to describe what we’re getting at (short of comfy).

The lazy pronunciation of the word comfortable is a telling artifact of its real origin. Most people pronounce it (KUMFF-tur-bull) rather than (KUM-furt-a-bull), because its oral ancestry is stronger than its written ancestry. So when you say “kumfterbul,” you’re not being the same kind of cretin who says “nuke-you-lar,” you’re participating in a centuries-old tradition of Germanic-English vernacular.

Wait a minute. That’s not right. That’s all bullshit. I just made that up.

You sound like a lazy schmuck. That’s what I meant.

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