What does gormless mean?

Reading time: About 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: gormless.

Have you ever read the Roald Dahl book Matilda? The story of a gifted five-year-old — with horrible parents, and an even worse school principal — is absolutely charming no matter whether your own age is five or 50.

Now, the story has been turned into a Broadway musical. I’d hoped to go to New York this year, and seeing Matilda had been at the very top of my “must see” list. Sadly, the state of the Canadian dollar is keeping me home.

But to torture myself, I read all about it in the New Yorker. The article, headlined “A Problem Like Matilda” and written by Michael Schulman, appeared in the April 2013 issue.

Quoting Roald Dahl, the article offered one of my all-time favourite adjectives, gormless:

“But Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood were both so gormless and so wrapped up in they own silly little lives that they failed to notice anything unusual about their daughter.”

Meaning, “dull, stupid, and lacking in intelligence” the etymology of the word is Norse. It comes from gaumr meaning, “care, heed.” (The suffix “less” means, “without,” of course.)

The word always makes me think of a goofy, dim-witted, weak-chinned man like Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean.)