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A random thought while doing the dishes: Why is unwise a word but unsmart isn't?

Unsmart does not appear in the dictionary on my desk, my trusty Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary Unabridged (which I still deep into the 21st century because I don't want to grow up, I'll always be a 20th-century kid). Unwise is also nowhere to be seen in either The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College Edition we keep upstairs or my copy of The Official Scrabble® Players Dictionary, Second Edition. If it's not in the Scrabble® Dictionary, it's not a real word.

However, the Internet has never cared about reality. Merriam-Webster online recognizes "unsmart" as meaning exactly what you would think it means (i.e. "not smart"), but their example for how to use the word comes from the October 18, 2022 issue of Elle magazine:

Tweets swimming reports from Barton Springs pool; carries an unsmart phone so as not to be distracted by the internet; has lived in France; and read Anna Karenina in 16 hours.

So in this case unsmart means essentially landline. That's nothing like unwise (in word or deed).

Elsewhere, the online Oxford English Dictionary also has an entry for unsmart, going so far as to quote itself when it says "OED's earliest evidence for unsmart is from before 1500, in the writing of Robert Henryson, poet." Curiously, that citation is absent from the Online Etymology Dictionary, but I looked up The Complete Works of Henryson at the University of Rochester's Robbins Library and did find this in the "Prologue" of his 1480s work Fables, lines 22-25:

For as we se, ane bow that ay is bent
Worthis unsmart and dullis on the string
Sa dois the mynd that ay is diligent
In ernistfull thochtis and in studying.

As you can see, that is not English. (Henryson wrote like what he was: a Scotsman.) It's Middle English, where smart had nothing to do with intelligence but a "stinging, sharp pain." In other words, in this case unsmart is akin to relax. I wouldn't say that's unwise either.

So call someone dumb, but don't call them unsmart lest you sound stupid.

Next time: Why is uncharismatic a word but unfortitudinous isn't? Actually, wait. No, this one makes sense. Never mind.

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Seen from parking lot
the sunset's a forest fire.
Hooray pollution!

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To be continued...


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