a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Today's Word -- Gormless

So I'm reading a book (for work, naturally), and I come across this character description:

"He was a walking definition of 'gormless'".

Gormless is a word that I've vaguely encountered in the past, but I have absolutely no idea what it means, and the problem with being a "walking definition" on the page is that if you don't know the definition to begin with, you're sort of stuck.

I know the word is British, because they have lots of great words like this, that somehow inexplicably never made the crossing to America.

So I look in my big tattered dictionary (so tattered that I think it's a Webster's, though since the cover -- and cover pages -- are long gone, it's unclear what it is). It has provided lots of obscure words in the past to aid in Scrabble triple-word scores, so I figure gormless has got to be there.


So it's on to the Internet, where you can google anything (side note: I saw two separate things on TV the other day that made a sexual joke out of the idea of "googling" something. So the joke has been made. Take it out of your script).

178,000 hits. 178,000 hits on Gormless? Yikes.

And there's the definition.

Gormless. It means "stupid or slow-witted". Which I wish I knew when I was 10, because it's a great insult that makes people actually feel a bit gormless when they look it up and realize maybe they are.

Gormlessness is a word. So is gormlessly. "Gorm", however, has disappeared into the ether. So without gorm, maybe everyone is gormless.

I'm not saying you should use obscure words like this in a screenplay; you shouldn't. But it's kind of fun to have them hanging up on the wall of your brain, ready to unsheathe if they are ever necessary for witty byplay in the real world.


At 12:21 PM, Blogger Tom said...

I knew I should have looked it up before using it. There goes my next spec, How Gormless Was My Valley.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger Julie O. said...

Silly Scott.

You're such a gorm.

(See? It's a word.)

((Okay, well it should be.))

At 3:03 PM, Blogger Steve Peterson said...

I like these things, because even though I don't know the meaning -- it's clearly an insult, and a cool word, and I'll figure out what gormless means through the character's actions.

At 3:14 PM, Blogger Brett said...

So is "gormful" a good thing, then?

At 6:48 PM, Anonymous Leif Smart said...

Is it perhaps a word my likely to be used by a character in dialogue rather then in an actual description? I can imagine any number of reasons, from helping to show a character who uses obscure words, to a subtle insult that the target has to look up before he realises he's been insulted.

At 8:38 PM, Blogger GregT said...

I hadn't even realised it was an obscure word! I kind of just assumed everyone knew what it meant. (Also, I always thought that beyond stupid and slow witted it also had a quality of ineffectualness or emasculation about it... but I guess the dictionary doesn't bear me out on that.)

At 11:51 PM, Blogger Dave Olden said...

I think it's safe to say that gorm, without '~less' is a good thing.

So, thanks for sharing your gormalogical journey, and I'm sure we can look forward, now, to a very gormful future...

At 12:42 AM, Blogger Chesher Cat said...

Once a great/unique word like that is used by somebody in a script or book, the rest of us gormless people can't use it. Too bad.

At 12:45 AM, Blogger Mystic Twiglet said...

Shame - you lot from 'across the pond' should take a tour of the UK sometime and get to grips with the nuances of the English language. Gormless is oft used in the north of England (Coronation Street anyone?)It's not a harsh word either - on a par with 'daft' as in 'he's two slices short of a sandwich'..kind of gormless

At 5:26 AM, Anonymous Skullen said...

Gormless - from gaumless (english dialect word) from gaum, which meant 'attention or understanding': all according to the New Penguin English Dictionary, btw. So there you go...

At 7:04 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

I don't think it is a matter of "someone else used it, so I can't." I think it is about not taking your reader out of the experience because you want to use an unconventional word. I say if the word isn't in circulation, then make sure the reader can deduct its meaning from context. Otherwise the reader will a)feel stupid. b) be taken out of the story and forced to look up the word or c) be lazy and just skip over it resulting in a completely lost sentence.

My bet is C.

Dialog is a different story.

At 8:31 AM, Anonymous Lucy said...

I can't believe gormless hasn't made it across either Mystic Twiglet, it's got to be my mother's fave word. Tell me: are there Twiglets in the US Scott?

At 9:51 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Twiglets? Little twigs?

I love the language over in England. Like the whole "rhyming slang" thing. But I think there's a LOT that has never made it across the pond.

At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Twiglets - crunchy snacks that look like twigs - sold in bags like crisps.

Didn't Bush once nearly choke on the US version of a twiglet (and somehow get a carpet burn(?)...

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Lucy said...

No it was a pretzel.

And twiglets are the greatest snack in the world. Little crunchy things with marmite on. Pure heaven, tho I'm not sure they can be described as mystical.

Americans clearly have missed out.

At 1:57 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Marmite? We don't get that in our grocery stores.

You Brits have to stop keeping all the cool stuff to yourselves ;-)

At 5:49 AM, Anonymous Lucy said...

The mind boggles...No wonder America keeps trying to take over the world ; )

At 10:36 AM, Anonymous Erik Hustad said...

Given that gormless is actully a word, albeit an obscure one, this is probably less likely, but it might also have simply been a typo. G is right next to F - "formless." Why someone would write, "He was a walking definition of formless," I do not know, but I wouldn't rule it out.


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