Printable Version
Pronunciation: for-lorn Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Sad, sorrowful because of a desperate if not hopeless situation. 2. In a pitiful condition, bereft, wretched in appearance, as a forlorn cottage, abandoned by its owner.

Notes: Today's sad little Good Word is a rarity: a purely English word that has an interesting story (see Word History). Moreover, it is spelled exactly the way it is pronounced, another rarity. It may be used as an adverb with the appropriate attachment, forlornly. The noun is forlornness. Watch out for the double N.

In Play: We are forlorn over a situation or event that leaves us feeling hopeless: "Don't be so forlorn; I'm sure your cat will forgive you for stepping on its tail and return home soon." This word is associated with a sense of loss: "The mechanic down at Rex Motors lost his favorite wrench yesterday and looked a bit forlorn when I took my car in for a check-up."

Word History: Today's Good Word is the obsolete past participle of forlosan "to lose". This verb descended from Old English forleosan "to lose, abandon", based on for- "completely" + leosan "to lose". It is a common Germanic word, as Dutch verliezen "to lose" and German verloren "lost" demonstrate. The phrase forlorn hope (from Dutch verloren hoop, literally "lost hope") at one time referred to a dangerous or desperate mission on the battlefield. This concept is reflected in English "lost cause" today. Lost hope led the meaning of today's word to shift from "lost" to "desperate, having lost hope". English lose shares an origin with loose. We can see how we could easily lose something that comes loose. (We cannot lose sight of the contribution of today's Good Word by Albert Skiles; that might make him, indeed, forlorn.)

Dr. Goodword,

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