Friend of NOOBs Lucy Berrington alerted me to a piece posted yesterday in Slate’s women’s-issues blog, XX Factor. Writer Michelle Goldberg discussed how Susan Sarandon, in an MSNBC interview, “posited that a Trump presidency might be preferable to a Clinton one, because it would hasten the revolution. ‘Some people feel that Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately if he gets in, things will really explode,’ she said.”
Goldberg excoriated Sarandon for–among many other things–“the gormless unreality of her idea of revolution.”
The OED defines “gormless” as “wanting sense, or discernment,” and dates it to 18th-century Lancashire dialect. There’s a citation from Wuthering Heights (1846): “Did I ever look so stupid, so ‘gaumless’, as Joseph calls it.” (Joseph being from Yorkshire, the next county over from Lancashire.)
This Google Ngram Viewer chart suggests that the word didn’t really become widely popular in the U.K. till the 20th century,:
The low U.S. usage is reflected in the archives of the New York Times, where “gormless” has appeared a mere seventeen times. Many of them are quotations from people from Britain or Ireland, as in the earliest use, from a 1957 column by Drew Middleton: “They’re a poor, gormless [feckless] lot down there,” a Belfast building worker said over the bar at the Great Eastern pub.” The eleven 21st-century uses tend to be from the mouths of the Times writers, as in the most recent one, a 2015 capsule movie review of “Escobar: Paradise Lost,” where “Benicio Del Toro’s drug kingpin Pablo Escobar is elbowed aside by this fact-studded fiction’s near-ruinous focus on a gormless surfer played by the chronically inexpressive Josh Hutcherson.”
I expect to see more U.S. uses of “gormless,” as the amount of gormlessness in the world appears to be on the rise.