Exploration of 'Lorn' Yields Bonanza

Rob Kyff on

Dear Mr. Lonelywords,

Ever since my boyfriend left me, I've been wondering what the "lorn" in "lovelorn" means. Is it derived from the title character in the novel "Lorna Doone," who suffers heartbreak? Or perhaps from the actor Lorne Greene, whose character on "Bonanza," Ben Cartwright, had been widowed three times? -- Lovelorn

Dear Lovelorn,

Those breakups can be tough. I'd suggest binge-watching old episodes of "Bonanza." Its characters Adam, Hoss and Little Joe -- especially Little Joe -- will help you forget what the guy even looked like, and help move you from "boo-hoo" to "beau who?"

"Lorn," which means "abandoned, forsaken," derives from "loren," the past participle of the Middle English verb "lesen" (to lose). So "lovelorn" literally means "forsaken by love."

While "forlorn," a variant of "lorn," is in common use today, "lorn" hardly ever appears by itself. A recent search of Google's N-gram viewer, shows that the use of "lorn" has now sunk to the lowest level in the word's 400-year history.

The most recent sighting of a solo "lorn" that Mr. Lonelywords could find came in "An Ode To Taxes," a little ditty by New York Times columnist Gail Collins published on April 15, 2009: "Oh, little return form / No longer are you sad and lorn." Cute.

In compound words, "lorn" is most often paired with "love" (lovelorn), but occasionally ventures on blind dates with other words as well. William Shakespeare wrote in "The Tempest," for instance, of "a dismissed bachelor" who was "lass-lorn." More recent pairings found in newspapers include "advice for the spirit lorn" (1992) and "the culture-lorn shores of the 'New World'" (2007).

Dear Mr. Lonelywords,

Ever since NBC canceled my favorite show, "Bonanza," in 1973, I've been woebegone. Can you put any pressure on the network to revive the series, as they're doing with "Will and Grace"? And, by the way, if "woebegone" means "woe be gone," why does it still mean "downcast"? -- Woebegone

Dear Woebegone,

Alas, if only "woebegone" did mean "woe, go away" in the same way that Weed B Gon zaps crabgrass. In fact, the "begone" in "woebegone" derives from the Middle English "begon," which meant "surrounded, overwhelmed." So "woebegone" means "beset by woe" ("a woebegone mood") or "in a sorry state" ("a rundown, woebegone farmhouse").

As for persuading NBC to revive "Bonanza," I'll see what I can do. I happen to know a guy who knows NBC's "Saturday Night Live" executive producer Lorne (not "Lorn") Michaels.


Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via e-mail to or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Copyright 2018 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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