Definition of aloof
- an aloof, unfriendly manner
- He stood aloof from worldly success.
- —John Buchan
They tried to keep aloof from the politics of the day.
the new kid was really not so aloof as we thought him at first, just painfully shy
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The English language has a large number of words that contain a negative prefix, and for the most part these will leave us with an easy way to understand these words if we take their prefixes away. Disinclined is "the state or condition of not being inclined to do something," unaware means "not being aware," and amoral refers to not being moral. Every so often, however, we come across specimens which appear somewhat odd if we take away the prefix; if disgruntled means “discontented” then does gruntle mean “to make content”? And if aloof means “emotionally or physically distant” then must loof mean “emotionally or physically close”?
It’s a bit complicated. In the case of gruntle, the word does indeed mean “to put in a good humor,” but only because people began using it in this fashion in the early 20th century as a jocular back-formation from disgruntle. Gruntle had an earlier sense, which was “grumble,” and the dis- in disgruntle was an intensifying prefix rather than a negative one. In the case of aloof the a- is a negative prefix, but loof did not mean “close.” This word is a variant of luff, which referred to the side of a ship, and the earliest sense of aloof was “to windward.” Soon after the word entered English it began to be used to mean “at a distance,” and soon after that took on the meaning of “physically or emotionally removed.”
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