juste a mot

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A fortnightly update on new words, compiled in association with Chambers Dictionaries

Hurrying to work this morning, delayed by the inevitable search for socks, and having to rush out without breakfast, an impor-tant thought occurred to me: socklessness is a major cause of breakfastlessness.

Yet neither of those indispensible lessnesses is listed in Chambers Dictionary. From affectlessness to zeallessness it includes 130 words ending in the suffix "-lessness", and a quick browse shows what a useful suffix it is. Where, indeed would ruth and feck be without it? Yet although we have "bootlessness" and "shoelessness", even "successlessness" - I'm not a failure: I'm just going through a patch of "successlessness" - there are no words for sock or breakfast deprivation.

What is the explanation for this "socklessnesslessness", as it must surely be described? Surely not an arbitrary devil-may-carelessness on the part of the compiler? Indeed not. No "rigourlessness" - another of the unlisted ones, incidentally - here. The words in the dictionary are those that have passed the criteria of multiple use, by more than one writer, cited by the publisher's team of dedicated word-spotters.

They have spotted that negative attribute of landlubbers, "seaworthlessness", but "breakfastlessness" and "socklessness" have not even made their way into the waiting room. (Look, chaps, that's twice I've used each one already. How many more do you need?)

The full OED omits them too, despite 309 words ending in "-lessness". Yet with "frontlessness" and no "backlessness", one must suspect, at the very least, a certain "dress-sense-lessness" among its compilers.


feck: (Scottish, obsolete) Tenor, substance, efficacy.

ruth: (archaic) Compassion.

lessness: (rare) An old word (dating back to 1635 according to the OED) meaning the condition of being less. More recently used as the title of a short work by Samuel Beckett (1970), and a philosophy of diminishing expectations identified by Douglas Coupland in Generation X (1991).