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Are there differences in usage between unsuccess and failure?

Is failure harsher to hear than unsuccess? In other words, is unsuccess a euphemism of failure?

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Do you mean unsuccessful? Because 'unsuccess' isn't a word... – Mark Oct 17 '11 at 13:56
@Mark: I found it in an online dictionary thefreedictionary.com/unsuccess. The link was removed by another user. – Tim Oct 17 '11 at 14:02
up vote 8 down vote accepted

By most people's definition, unsuccess is not a word. It's easy to understand even if you've never seen it before, so a few people are bound to use it. But we're talking about very few people...

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Most nouns don't have an unambiguous "opposite" that we can invoke with a negating prefix, and for those that do, we usually use the non- prefix anyway.

Offhand the only nouns I can think of that we negate using un- are already-inflected "abstract" forms such as unconsciousness, unhelpfulness, unwillingness. But note that unsuccessfulness is even less common than unsuccess - probably because it's just too much of a mouthful.

EDIT: Thanks to @Unreason (who with that name has a vested interest in the matter!) for pointing out that there are a handful of un[noun] negations. Of which unrest is universally accepted, as to a lesser extent are unconcern, unreason, unbelief, etc. But in such cases the stem word usually also functions as a verb. The exception being unbelief, which I believe to be a pathological formulation primarily associated with poetic and pseudo-academic contexts (the standard negated form is disbelief).

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What kinds of people are those few people using it? less uneducated, more sophisticated, or ...? – Tim Oct 17 '11 at 14:03
Unsuccess does sound very ugly, and failure is much more common, however if you examine the results of ngram search you will see that the comparison looks like that because failure is very common (11M results) and unsuccess is rare (20k results). However 20k is comparable to for example 'litotes' (no relation, just a rarely used, technical word; books.google.com/ngrams/… ). My point and question is: why do say 'by most people's definition it is not a word'? – Unreason Oct 17 '11 at 14:16
@Unreason: It's not a word because most native speakers think it isn't. IMHO, the reason they think this is firstly because they [almost] never see/hear it, and secondly because we don't normally negate nouns by using the "un-" prefix. – FumbleFingers Oct 17 '11 at 14:22
@FumbleFingers, do most native speakers think that litotes is a word? (I think that here more important is that to most native speakers "unsuccess" does not sound like a word and for that your second argument is much more important and valid). – Unreason Oct 17 '11 at 14:49
@Unreason: I feel you're just being contentious. I've just explained in bold type exactly why unsuccess does not sound like a word. It violates a well-observed "rule" governing how we normally negate nouns. Even though most speakers aren't consciously aware of that rule, it's what causes them to say unsuccess sounds "ugly". With litotes, people who don't know the word would normally just say they don't know it - they wouldn't have any predisposition to say it doesn't sound like a valid word at all. – FumbleFingers Oct 17 '11 at 15:04

Nobody uses the word "unsuccess". Its meaning is obvious, so you can use it as a euphemism for failure, but your readers will find it odd.

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I found it in an online dictionary thefreedictionary.com/unsuccess. Also the graph doesn't show it clearly. If you click "unsuccess" below, there are books using it. – Tim Oct 17 '11 at 14:02
Ermm... In what sense would unsuccess be a "euphemism"? Do you work in an office where the boss insists every worker must have Failure is a dirty word tattooed on their forehead? – FumbleFingers Oct 17 '11 at 14:29
It's a euphemism in the sense that failure is negative while success is positive, and unsuccess sounds more success-y than "failure". In the same way that when something is "not good" that isn't as strong a statement as "it's bad". – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Oct 17 '11 at 14:43

Personally, I've never heard anyone using 'unsuccess', simply because the term isn't valid. If you want to use the word opposite to 'success' you use the word 'failure'. If you insist on using 'unsuccess', at least find it used in context to make sure you can do so, not just a dictionary entry.

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As @Unreason points out, even though failure is overwhelmingly more common, there are over 20,000 written instances in NGrams. Though I doubt you'd find it in any printed dictionaries (certainly none of mine). – FumbleFingers Oct 17 '11 at 14:33
dictionary.reference.com/browse/unsuccess?r=66 is based on Random House. – Unreason Oct 17 '11 at 14:54

Even though you can find the reference to 'unsuccess' in dictionaries and in various books (see books) it does sound rather ugly.

However, as other note, 'failure' is so much more common that it completely overshadows 'unsuccess'.

Side note: on the other hand unsuccessful is a common word, with no synonym with the root fail.

Using unsuccess as a noun might be justified if there are more than two states (success and failure). For example if the context establishes that the result of some action can be success, status quo and failure, then it might be justified to use unsuccess.

However, even in those cases it is more clear and sounds more pleasing (to me) to say 'not a success' than to say 'unsuccess'.

If you examine the examples in books you will find it in poems, titles (it is the shorter than 'not a success'), dictionaries and for example as synonym of failure (to avoid repeating a word) and so on i.e. in rare and specific cases.

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