Sunday, April 13, 2008

Word of the Week: gormless

Today’s Toronto Star had a review of Dan Ariely’s book “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions”. The reviewer gave a bit of background about the author -- apparently Ariely is a professor of behavioural economics at MIT -- and set forth the book’s premise.

As I was reading the favourable review, my interest in the book was growing, until I came across these two paragraphs in the review:

Predictably Irrational abounds with other eye-opening examples of irrational human behaviour. Ariely demonstrates the kryptonite-like pull of "free" goods by bartering chocolate bars with children trick-or-treating at his door.

Their gormlessness is endearing, but your average 5-year-old apparently fares no worse than adults when it comes to a slavish desire to get something for nothing, even if the "something" we get is less than what we have -- or worse, something we don't need.

After reading that last paragraph my attention immediately went from Ariely’s book to the question of what “gormless” means -- and, equally importantly – to wondering why the reviewer use that word.

After getting over my irritation at the diversion of my attention away from the topic at hand (Ariely’s book), I managed to finish reading the review and I jotted the book’s title down to order it from the library. After that, my annoyance with the reviewer returned as I went to look up gormless.

According to, gormless means: lacking intelligence: stupid.

I don’t mind learning new words, but I couldn’t help think that by using a word I have to look up (not to mention one that made me feel -- well, in the words of the reviewer -- gormless) all the reviewer accomplished was to distract and irritate me, which I doubt was her (or the newspaper’s) intention.


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