A grammatical question that may flabbergast you.

06/09

In the fourth round of edits on Sidekick: The Misadventures of the New Scarlet Knight (more on that later) I needed to add a sentence about how my protagonist was too shocked by the use of strong language by another character to respond properly:

I wanted to tell her that what the hell happened to me was a giant hell-beast coming out of the ocean during homeroom, but I couldn’t get a word in through all my surprise at her choice of language.

As soon as I typed that, I hated it. “Surprise” was too light a word for the emotion I wanted to convey. So I made a visit to Mr. Roget’s Neighborhood and one particular synonym caught my eye:

flab·ber·gast vt \’fla-b?r-gast\

Definition of FLABBERGAST

: to overwhelm with shock, surprise, or wonder : dumbfound
— flab·ber·gast·ing·ly adverb

I love “flabbergast.” It’s such a wonderful word. It’s not too easy to say, but it’s not enough for your tongue to trip over. It also helped that one of my comic heroes, Dudley Moore, used to perform selections from a faux-German opera called “Der Flabbergast” in his stage routines, which were hilarious. “In this number, our lovers bemoan, and bemoan, and bemoan.”

Of course, “flabbergast” is a transitive verb, and what I need here is a “state of being” noun. The easiest way to get one of them is to add “ness” to an adjective. So I took the past participle of “to flabbergast,” added the suffix, and typed “flabbergastedness.” Sounds good, huh?

Nope. MS Word flagged it as not being in their dictionary. So I did a Google search and the only “reference” source I could find listing that form of the word was Urban Dictionary, which is not the most reliable source.

So I started to wonder, what would a proper noun form for the state of being flabbergasted be? From my research these are the forms that might conceivably be grammatically correct:

  • Flabbergastment the suffix -ment forms “effect of action” nouns from verbs, so this might be the most grammatical form. But it just sounds so artificial.
  • Flabbergastity – -ity forms “state or condition” words, usually from adjectives. This might be the most natural sounding form of the word, but -ity is almost never used with verbs.
  • Flabbergastion – You can add -ion to form a noun from a past participle, but usually only with words of Latin descent. The OED says that the word is probably an 18th century invention in the Suffolk dialect of English from combining “flap” (or “flabby”) and “aghast.”

Granted, all are theoretically more grammatically correct than “flabbergastedness” since they come directly from the infinitive form of the verb instead of through the participle, but this could be a case where the improper form makes more sense and sounds better than the correct form.

If anyone wants to shed some light on this question, or just weigh in with their opinion, it will be appreciated.

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