English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In Jingo, by Terry Pratchet, Lord Vetinari says:

"... Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs have never been pugn'd in their entire lives."

What about "pugn'd"? Is it just a contraction for "impugned" or there is pun that a non-native like me can't spot?

share|improve this question
Clearly the origin of pwnd ;-). – Peter Shor Jun 2 '11 at 19:36
@Peyter pwned is from a typo of "owned". O/P are together on the extreme right of a querty keyboard. – mgb Jun 2 '11 at 19:41
@Martin Beckett: No shit, Sherlock. I'm pretty sure that was an attempt at humour by @Peter. – Grant Thomas Jun 2 '11 at 19:42
@Mr Disappointment - I didn't know what pwned meant until somebody pointed it out. – mgb Jun 2 '11 at 19:44
up vote 5 down vote accepted

It's a joke. There are lots of words in English that are back formations like this.

The prefix 'im' often means to undo or the opposite of something. So 'impugned' sounds like it should be the negative of 'pugned', just as impolite is the opposite of polite. In fact it's from the latin, impugnāre to fight against, attack.

A similar prefix is 'dis'. There is a joke in the same book (IIRC) describing Commander Vymes as disgruntled and Colon claiming that he was never gruntled to begin with.

share|improve this answer
Wikipedia's got a pretty good explanation of back-formation but the corresponding list of English back-formations is missing pugned/pugn'd. Guess Pratchett is one of the first to use it in print ;) – aedia λ Jun 2 '11 at 19:42
@aedia - more that it's a deliberately unused one, like gruntled, for the purpose of the joke. – mgb Jun 2 '11 at 19:45
@Martin - true, the list does seem to be intended for back-formations that are or were really used. Some seem just as amusing as "pugn" to me though. I'm now curious as to whether anyone really says that helicopters "helicopt" or that lasers "lase". – aedia λ Jun 2 '11 at 20:02
Lase is common - at least among people that need to discuss lasing. – mgb Jun 2 '11 at 20:05
One of my favorite fake back-formations is "have", pronounced "hayv". She: "Behave!" I: "I am have! There are the haves and the have nots, and I am one of the haves!" This joke really doesn't work in print, though... – MT_Head Jun 3 '11 at 3:20

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.