A word today, gone tomorrow


‘I want to express my gratefulness’ she said, and then paused. ‘Is that a real word?

Is gratefulness in the dictionary?’

Actually, it is in the dictionary although most commonly as a noun from an obsolete sense of grateful meaning ‘agreeable, pleasant’.  The gratefulness of ice cream on a hot day.

But it doesn’t matter. It is open to all of us to create words as we need them, and it is a perfectly routine matter to add the suffix -ness to almost anything to create a noun.  This is quite a conservative means of word formation. There are many such creations of the moment that we encounter every day, some of them, like this one, matters of personal choice, some of them entertaining wordplay. Very few of them acquire permanence and make it into the dictionary, but they are no less real and effective and satisfactory in their brief moment of existence.

In this instant of expression, the speaker opted for gratefulness rather than gratitude.  I wondered why. Perhaps the form gratefulness more vividly brings to mind the adjective grateful with all its warm emotions intact, whereas gratitude seems more impersonal and cold.

Whatever the reason, the choice was hers to make, and she needed no permission from the dictionary.

I am not sure that I extend the same generosity to phasmagoric, possibly her version of phantasmagoric, which she proudly presented as another favourite word of uncertain status.