Why Is It Grateful and Not Greatful?

Grateful vs GreatfulWhen I was young, I was terrible at spelling. I’m still not a great speller, but I’m okay. Technology has been very good for people like me. I don’t make many meaning mistakes like mixing up “beat” and “beet.” Generally, if I make a mistake it’s a big one. One that still drives me create is “knowledgeable.” It’s only been quite recently that I’ve managed to consistently throw in that final “e.” The truth is that it still doesn’t make a lot of sense of to me. Why not knowledgable? Anyway, I tell you this only so that you won’t think too lowly of me when I admit that I was 19 years old when I learned how to spell “grateful.”

I’m pretty sure it was because I saw a poster for The Grateful Dead. But it might also have been that I noticed a sign for The Grateful Bagel. Regardless, I thought, “That’s got to be wrong.” So I did what I’ve found to be very unusual in our culture: I got out a dictionary and I looked it up. And sure enough, grateful was the right spelling: “appreciative of benefits received.” It turns out that “greatful” isn’t even in the dictionary.

But that’s as far as I took it. In those days, it didn’t occur to be to dig deeper. It didn’t even occur to me that it was odd that it was spelled that way. In those days, English spelling was a mystery. There was no sense to it, so it could have been spelled ghoti, and I wouldn’t have given it any more thought.

Why Grateful?

Today, however, the question did occur to me. And this is the first time that I really gave the word’s meaning any thought. It couldn’t be “greatful.” The “ful” suffix indicates, more or less, “filled with.” And “grateful” doesn’t mean “filled with great.” If you want to put it that way, you would say, “filled with gratitude.” And that gets us pretty close to the reason that we spell the word “grateful.”

Latin: It’s Always the Latin

Of course, in that case, it would just be a synonym for “great.” And we hardly need “greatful,” much less “greatnessful,” when “great” would do.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, “grateful” from the middle of the 16th century. That was when we had long gone version of the word “grate.” It meant pleasing or thankful. And, as usual, it came from a Latin word, gratus. According to my Latin dictionary, it means “beloved, dear, acceptable, pleasing, agreeable.” It gives as an example, “O! Diva gratum quæ regis Antium.” It is by Horace (so much Latin that is quoted is by him), in his Odes, Volume 1, Poem 35. And it means, “Oh! Goddess who reigns over your own loved Antrium.” Maybe.

The main thing is that the word sounds like “great” but that doesn’t mean anything. “Gateful” also sounds like “grate,” which has two modern definitions, First is: “to have an irritating effect.” And second is: “to break into small pieces by rubbing against something rough.” Both of those words come to use via Germany. It is from the word kratzen, which means “to scratch.”

From Youtube: Grateful Dead – Casey Jones 1971.

Why Not Greatful?

But there is a possible use of the word “greatful.” Maybe this is just another example of how Trump is torturing me. But in that construction, the meaning would be “filled with great.” Now that doesn’t quite work. The –ful suffix is normally attached to a noun. But we could stretch it to mean, “filled with greatness.” So we might say, “In his mind, Trump is greatful.” Of course, in that case, it would just be a synonym for “great.” We hardly need “greatful,” much less “greatnessful.” “Great” does a perfectly good job.

I’m certain that Trump sees himself a John Galt type. He did it all on his own. (What rich father?!) Thus Trump isn’t in any true sense grateful. It would be nice to have a homophone just for him. It’s nice to think that the President of the US is grateful, even if just in spoken English.

English Makes Sense

Regardless of Trump, this does clarify why we have the word grateful and not the word greatful. Contrary to what I thought when I was younger, the English language — even its spelling — makes a lot of sense. It isn’t perfect. (What is?!) But if you learn it well enough, you will find that it is pretty accommodating to your personal sense of logic and structure. And I’m grateful for that.

The Terrible Characters of Atlas Shrugged

Robert Nielsen - Atlas ShruggedThe greatest and most obvious flaw with the book is how terrible the characters are. They are all one dimensional cartoons that are either perfect in every way or horrible in every way. If a character agrees with Rand’s ideology, then they are smart, beautiful, strong, noble, and rich. If a character disagrees with her ideology, Rand makes them fat, ugly, stupid, lazy, and hysterical (most of the villains of the book speak in exclamation marks). Even when villains have sex, it is made clear that they are not attracted to each other and gain no pleasure from the action. Because if you’re not a fanatical libertarian, you are wrong in literally every way.

The descriptions of the heroes are so over the top absurd it’s almost funny. Hank recalls his first day working at the age of 14 in an iron mine and how he cursed himself for being tired and feeling pain, but kept going because “he decided that pain was not a valid reason for stopping.” He then ends up running a series of steel mills and then inventing an entirely new form of steel. I don’t know how Rand thought it was credible that the CEO of a major corporation could also spend years working in a lab on research or that those skills crossed over. As if that weren’t ridiculous enough, he causally invents an entirely new way of building bridges one evening as if that were the kind of thing that happens all the time.

Francisco has to be the most ridiculous/funny. As a child he instantly becomes an expert in everything he does. He sits in a boat and automatically knows how to drive it. When he was 12 he snuck off and got a job working on the railroads, which was nothing because the year before he ran away and worked on a cargo steamer for the summer. Also while he was 12 he single-handedly discovers differential equations. When he was 16 he went to college but also worked in a copper factory. By the time he was 20, he owned the factory. How? By speculating on the stock market, because it is so easy to see which stocks will go up and down. It is weird that none of the heroes have time in their lives when they were fun-loving children; in childhood they were merely miniature adults.

All of the heroes have this absurd element to them. They don’t stop to eat or rest a single time in the book and it is casually thrown in that they haven’t slept for two or three days as though that would have no effect on them. They have no hobbies or interested outside work. Even when they are bleeding they don’t feel any pain. In other words, they are soulless robots, machines good for working and nothing else.

Atlas Shrugged bears a strong resemblance to fascist propaganda in its treatment of heroes. There is a strong emphasis on the cult of personality, of worshipping men of action in contrast to the masses who are too stupid and cowardly to achieve greatness. Democracy destroys accountability whereas dictatorship is the only system where anyone is responsible. All of the best firms in the book are named after their owner and collapse without them.

Atlas Shrugged is less of a novel and more of an excuse for Rand to promote her ideology. The characters are prone to burst out in long-winded speeches at the drop of the hat. The climax of the book is a 60 page speech in which remarkably little is said. However, I noticed that Rand completely avoided debates. The moochers give speeches in isolation as do the heroes; at no point do their paths cross…

–Robert Nielsen
Atlas Shrugged Is A Ridiculous Book