Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Think > Thinker
Draw > Drawer

Can we call a person who loses thing a loser? Of course, I do not mean that they are not successful or failed but what should I call them?

share|improve this question
1  
Drawer > pair of underpants as opposed to a sketch artist –  mplungjan Jan 28 '12 at 17:44
    
@mplungjan: surely a drawer is only underpant-related if you put both legs through one hole. –  TimLymington Jan 28 '12 at 23:15
    
So if we have two sketch artists they are a pair of drawers. –  mplungjan Jan 29 '12 at 6:49
    
Semantically yes, linguistically no. I'd call them careless, instead. –  AndrewNimmo Jan 29 '12 at 13:12
add comment

3 Answers

The word to use for people who lose things would depend on why they are suspected of losing them. They might be absent-minded or forgetful as suggested in another answer, but they could also be disorganized, distracted, or preoccupied, for example.

Loser is not valid because here "lose" is always understood in the sense of winning and losing a competition. It can be neutral, to describe the loser of an organized game or prize, or to diminish those not at the top in business or society, or disparagingly to call someone hapless or a failure.

The only time it does not is when making a play on words. For example, the television show The Biggest Loser features teams of obese people who compete to lose the most weight. The biggest "loser" is thus actually the winner of the competition.

There are numerous other examples in which the obvious noun formed from a verb has a different and stronger primary meaning:

waiter > one who waits, as for a late train

waiter > one who waits on tables, as in a restaurant

boxer > one who packages things in boxes

boxer > one who fist-fights for sport

skipper > one who skips instead of walks

skipper > the chief officer of a ship

share|improve this answer
1  
Sometimes a word that would be formed by a standard rule overlaps a word with a special use so strongly that you can't use the normal rule. You should be able to turn "lose" into "loser" to mean one who loses things, but you can't because the word "loser" (a pathetic person, from the sense of "lose" that means to not win) dominates. It's the same reason you can't call a person from Hamburg, Germany a "Hamburger". The word "hamburger" is too strong. –  David Schwartz Jan 29 '12 at 8:34
    
As I point out in my answer, this overstates the case. It's not true that loser is "always understood in the sense of winning and losing a competition." You can sometimes use it if you specify what the person loses/lost. –  Brett Reynolds Jan 29 '12 at 12:31
add comment

No, you can't, unless you want to be misunderstood. It will never be taken to mean someone who loses things. You just have to say such a person is forgetful, or absent-minded, or . . . always loses things.

share|improve this answer
    
There are actually quite a few postings on various Internet forums/Q&A sites asking the same as OP. I guess it regularly occurs to people that the "literal" meaning of "loser" has been completely lost, so we no longer have a word to distinguish someone who routinely forgets his wedding anniversary from someone who routinely leaves his house keys down the pub! Not that it really matters, since they're usually the same type of person. I call myself sieve-brained - keep the nuggets and let the rubbish wash on through! –  FumbleFingers Jan 28 '12 at 15:33
add comment

It isn't common, but you can, as long as you specify what they lose: a loser of keys, the loser of those sunglasses, etc.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

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.