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Cut and dried … or dry?

Q: I saw the expression “cut and dry” the other day on the legal scholar Jonathan Turley’s blog. I had always thought it was “cut and dried,” a distinction I learned by a correction in a high school biology paper—in 1961, as I recall. Any thoughts about this? A: The expression as it first appeared in the mid-17th century was “cut and dried.” But the other version, “cut and dry,” was also used early on, and it’s...

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3 min read
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It’s ‘along’ story

Q: In David Copperfield, Mrs. Gummidge uses an odd construction to blame herself for Daniel Peggotty’s readiness to visit the pub: “I am sorry it should be along of me that you’re so ready.” She’s apparently using “along of” to mean “because of,” a usage I’m unaware of. What’s going on? A: English has had two different “along” words. The usual one today is a preposition or adverb with various lengthwise and...

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2 min read
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From ‘agog’ to ‘go-go’

Q: I was recently reading a novel and “agog” jumped out at me. Where did this weird-sounding word come from? Does it have anything to do with being goggle-eyed? I’m all agog to know. A: “Agog,” meaning excited, astonished, or expectantly eager, probably isn’t related to goggling or goggly eyes or, for that matter, to goggles. But there’s an etymological trail leading from “agog” to “go-go” dancing and “go-go”...

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3 min read
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We are met on a great battle-field

[Note: In observance of Memorial Day, we are reprinting this post, originally published on Jan. 9, 2015.] Q: Watching a recent rebroadcast of “The Civil War” on PBS, I was struck by this sentence in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “We are met on a great battle-field of that war.” Is “we are met” just a poetic usage? Or is something else going on? A: “We are met” is a present-perfect construction, parallel to “we have...

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2 min read
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Fair enough?

Q: Would you consider an article on the origin of “fair enough”? I recently read an online comment that suggested it originated in wooden boat building. I’m skeptical, but stumbling around on Google hasn’t gotten me an answer. A: There’s no evidence that “fair enough,” an expression dating from the early 19th century, has its origins in boat building. All of the early examples we’ve seen are from ordinary...

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3 min read
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Rapping paper

Q: I’ve always assumed that “rap” in its speaking sense was derived from “rapport,” but dictionaries offer only talking or conversing as a definition, and almost no indication of the etymology. Am I right about the origin? A: The use of “rap” in the sense of talking in an easy, familiar, and frank way may very well have been influenced by “rapport.” But “rap” had nothing to do with conversation when it first...

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4 min read
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The went not taken

Q: In Little Women, the girls chide their friend Teddy for flirting, to which he replies that sensible girls “won’t let me send them ‘flowers and things,’ so what can I do? my feelings must have a went.” I haven’t seen “went” used as a noun before. Have you come across it? A: The “went” that Teddy uses is an antiquated noun for a path or road. The word dates from the Middle Ages and wasn’t an everyday usage by the...

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3 min read