That’s not Shakespearean.

My brain just said those words as I was reading the etymology for “layabout.”

I was sure, in my head, that the word had to be Shakespearean. It sounds Shakespearean. I’m sure I’ve heard or read it in pieces that are set, chronologically, well before 1932.

And yet, there’s the date, in black and gray (that box isn’t white, it’s gray). 1932. American. The word doesn’t even have the courtesy to be British.

The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Online site further explains that “lay” in this sense is the “nonstandard alteration of lie about.” I figured as much, but it’s always comforting to see such a thing in print.

Then there’s the other term, “to lay about,” which means “to strike randomly in all directions.” As in “He laid about with a mace and still managed to strike nothing.” Here’s the link to Etymology Online’s entry, showing the “put down (often by striking)” meaning.

I suppose, then, that a layabout might lay about if awakened suddenly.

 

It’s green, but which one is it?

“Green with envy.”

“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” (Yo, that’s from Shakespeare. Othello, Act III, scene 3.)

There’s envy, and there’s jealousy, and while common usage has conflated them to where perhaps it really doesn’t matter much to anyone anymore, there are times it’s worth knowing which is which. If you’re writing in a more formal register, or perhaps your fiction is a “period piece” with slightly dusty conventions, you might want to know how to use these words in the old-fashioned way. If you don’t care, you can stop reading here. Seriously. Don’t waste your time.  Continue reading “It’s green, but which one is it?”

Superannuated Syntax: “Hard by”

“The house sat hard by a small stream.”

It did what? Did it fall from the sky, like Dorothy’s farmhouse, and “sit hard” on someone?

Nothing nearly so exciting, I fear. This phrase means simply “near.” My copy of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles tells me that this usage of “hard” (with “by”) is archaic and dates to 1526. The meaning of “hard” is “close, of time or place,” but the sense of “of time” is no longer used. Continue reading “Superannuated Syntax: “Hard by””

Superannuated Syntax: For Such Fell Purpose

“Fell” needs to be resurrected in the adjectival sense, for my money. It’s a wonderful word used in that manner. I’ll wager you know the phrase “one fell swoop,” meaning “a swift and deadly stroke” (and if you don’t know it, you can read about it here). Unsurprisingly, that phrase comes from Shakespeare. Macbeth, actually. But I digress. Continue reading “Superannuated Syntax: For Such Fell Purpose”