...should think him unpractical, which he really was not.

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littlemonyou

Senior Member
Korean
'He is as beautiful as a weathercock,' remarked one of the Town Councillors who wished to gain a reputation for having artistic tastes; 'only not quite so useful,' he added, fearing lest people should think him unpractical, which he really was not. (From The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde)


Hi everyone, here in this context that I underlined, does it mean that 'he really was not practical', or does it mean that 'he really was not unpractical'?

I am totally confused between those two, because it seems to me, it should be the latter case to be logical. But then looking at the context, I don't think the author wanted to praise this Town Councillors by saying he was not unpractical.

Thanks for your help!
 
  • wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    The Town Councillor wanted two sides to his reputation: having artistic tastes and also being practical.
    Having said something suggesting artistic taste, he hastily added something suggesting practicality.

    'Fearing lest people should think him unpractical' means 'being worried that people would think he was unpractical'.
    'Which he really was not' means that the author is stating that he was not unpractical: in other words, that he was practical.
     
    Last edited:

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Yes, he was not unpractical and was, therefore, practical. I wonder, however, why Oscar Wilde chose 'unpractical' over 'impractical'... I had never heard 'unpractical' (or may have but never paid attention to it).
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    'Impractical' would be used to describe a plan, method, approach or tool.
    Wilde uses 'unpractical' to show that he refers to a personal quality.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Thank you for explaining this intricacy to me, Wandle, though I am surprised that you should formulate such a distinction.
    Well, you asked why Wilde chose 'unpractical'.
    I wonder, however, why Oscar Wilde chose 'unpractical' over 'impractical'... I had never heard 'unpractical' (or may have but never paid attention to it).
    That is why I answered by giving what I feel sure was Wilde's reason, and avoided setting up two exclusive definitions.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Google Ngram Viewer shows that "unpractical" was more commonly used than "impractical" prior to 1910 (after Wilde's death).
    Wilde may have meant exactly "impractical" and "unpractical" was the more common spelling around 1888 when the book was published.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    Currently, at least, Wandle's distinction (post #5) is only partially observed in British English and not at all in American usage. AE dictionaries have dropped "unpractical", which did appear at least as late as the 1930s and was synonymous with impractical, referring to both things and people, although the latter had become far more common. The British Chambers 21st Century Dictionary still lists both, using impractical in the same way as AE to refer to both things and people and restricting "unpractical" to descriptions of people.
     
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