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Vainful?

March 6, 2017

I was reading a report (by Henry Winter) in the Times today about Tottenham Hotspurs’ fine victory over Everton at the weekend, when the following sentence brought me up short: “Ronald Koeman, Everton’s manager, even changed his tactics in a vainful attempt to cope with Kane”. Vainful? Vainful? What on earth was Mr Winter thinking of? How did it even get past his spellcheck (mine is giving it an instantaneous squiggly red underlining)? Not only is there no such word, but usage suggests there never was, would be or could be: the rule is that adjectives ending in -ful are formed by adding a noun to the suffix (hopeful, merciful, joyful, tearful etc); and vain is not a noun but already an adjective. Vainful is as redundant as happiful or sadful.

My theory is that Winter succumbed to the usual sports-writer’s lure of choosing a longer word because the short one seemed too workaday. Sports-writers are the most likely of all journalists to mis-use words in an attempt to sound impressive, maybe because they are uncomfortably aware that they are not writing in the most intellectual part of the newspaper. And possibly Winter had in the back of his mind the adjective painful, and vainful was suggested to him by the rhyme?

But Henry Winter is the Chief Football writer on the Times. The Chief! Imagine what the junior football writers are getting up to.

P.S. May I bring to your attention my comic fantasy YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers – here is the link: https://unbound.com/books/adam-gowers . Go there and you will see a neat little 2-minute video of me explaining why the time for this novel has come! And if you support it you will get your name in the back and an invitation to the launch party.

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3 Comments
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    A quick Google shows Mr. Winter has used this word before (in 2006 ‘re Stewart Downing and again in 2012 ‘re John Terry) so maybe he just likes the look of it or in this case was unconsciously trying to avoid rhyming vane with Kane. Actually it does look like something a poet might use.

  2. Mark Brafield permalink

    A friend of mine likes to ring the changes on adjectival endings, my favourite being ‘crap(p)esque’ instead of ‘crappy’; ‘a typically crapesque performance by Fellaini this evening against Rostov’.

  3. Simon Carter permalink

    Surely crapulent (suffering the effects of excessive eating or drinking) is not only one of the most apt synonyms but also provides crapulously, crapulence and crapulosity which should also be descriptive of a lot of football related matters.

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