Archaic adverbs, or just too fancy?

danielfranco

Senior Member
I've just read Douglas Adams's "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency," in which the main character is fond of bombastic speech. At one point, he says, "I know whereof I speak."

I wonder, all these wonderful adverbs of place (i.e., whence, whereat, etc.), are they really antiquated, or just too much out of the colloquial speech to be commonly used?

Because "I know what I'm talking about," sounds entirely too crude and vulgar compared to the other elegant phrase, and I wish those very precise phrases were more common-place. Why ain't they?

D
 
  • bloomiegirl

    Senior Member
    US English
    Language evolves, and -- in the cases you cite -- the older forms remain but are only used in higher registers. (It's a crap shoot; sometimes it goes the other way, and the older forms become gutter language.) Language is funny and interesting, no?
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Hello DF. I must admit to a certain fondness for those agglutinating prepositiony adverb jobbies as well. I imagine some of them (whereof, whereat) might once have been common parlance, while others (thereunder, hereinafter) have only ever been used by our friends in the legal profession, in particular those bright sparks who write contracts.
    They're a handy way of reducing word-count (if you should ever need to reduce word-count):
    From now on I shall be known as Miriam. (9)
    Henceforward I shall be known as Miriam. (7)

    The only problems associated with them are three: (1) they do tend to sound ever-so-slightly ridiculous in spoken English, as if the speaker had swallowed a contract and was regurgitating bits of it willy-nilly; (2) our (general) tendency to put things as simply as possible makes it pretty difficult to produce one in natural speech ~ the average English-speaking brain will come up with from that moment on far more easily than thenceforward; (3) while I was writing (1) and (2) I forgot what (3) was.

    Best wishes,
    Miriam ewie [dang!]
     

    danielfranco

    Senior Member
    (3) while I was writing (1) and (2) I forgot what (3) was.
    Dear Miriam:

    That's precisely what I would like to understand. How words that once were part of the common lexicon can be abandoned for clumsier constructions. I mean, we all wish that stupid things like "prepping, commentating, subbing, etc." would never become the standard English, but they might.

    I suppose the answer to the whole enchilada resided in point (3). We shall never know.

    D
     

    danielfranco

    Senior Member
    Language evolves, and -- in the cases you cite -- the older forms remain but are only used in higher registers. (It's a crap shoot; sometimes it goes the other way, and the older forms become gutter language.) Language is funny and interesting, no?
    I think languages are interesting when viewed from a certain perspective. But astrophysicist Stephen Baxter insists that language was invented by a deranged proto-human. Douglas Adams himself has mentioned the possibility that clear communication is the mother of all wars.

    :D

    This theme has made me wonder just how random language evolution is, and how difficult it must be trying to rein in all the wild varieties of one language, like the French have been (successfully?) trying with their language.

    Ah, here goes another strange phrase: "I shall not do anything without I know I decided for myself." Hmm… I can't imagine when it was proper to say it like that. Eighteenth century, perhaps?

    D
     

    bloomiegirl

    Senior Member
    US English
    FYI, from Howard Lauther's Complete Punctuation Thesaurus of the English Language, copyright 1991 online (you may need to scroll down the page of search for "whereof"):

    "10.107 whereof. This is an adverb and adverbial conjunction though it is rarely if ever used in the United States today. As ad an adverb it begins a question, representing the words from what or of what. As a conjunction it stands for the words of which or of whom. Consider using these actual definitions rather than the word itself."

    PS - DanielFranco, you may also like some of the other adverbs that Lauther discusses.
     
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    I'm not sure that Ewie's right about the "heretofore's" etc being limited to the legal profession. All legal language sprang from common speech at one time or another.

    In my view, we have lost a lot of efficient language by abandoning this allegedly "pompous" Saxon vocabulary. They said much, which can now be said only with more words. 'Tis laziness, methinks. People won't let their minds focus on precise meanings, and so have to ramble round their intent. Were it otherwise, we'd still be with Shakespeare and all the Romance nations would still be with Cicero and Caesar.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Yes, you're probably right, KB, and I should have said these words are now limited to the legal profession. (At the risk of blundering off into off-topicalia, those bits of Legal English which ~ to this day ~ are Pure Latin may once have been common speech, yes ... among the Norman legal fraternity).
    In response to your 'people won't let their minds focus on precise meanings', and with reference to what Bloomie said in post #9 re whereof, the problem with that particular word* is that the where bit of it is rather confusing in so far as the word in toto doesn't really have much to do with modern where ... so unless speakers learn whereof = of which not of where, they will continue saying of which.

    *Probably with other examples too. Quod erat demonstrandum:eek:.
     
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    It's sort of on the dictionary.com entry:
    wherewithal (adv.) - "means by which," 1535, from where + withal.

    But I'm not going to chase down "withal."
    Yet the Oxford Etymological Dictionary says that "withal" means what it seems to mean at first glance: "along with the rest; as well", so how does it come to mean "means by which" when coupled with "where"?

    "Means by which" is certainly the modern meaning. The OEtD just lists as as a compound of "where" without explaining it.
     

    bloomiegirl

    Senior Member
    US English
    Yet the Oxford Etymological Dictionary says that "withal" means what it seems to mean at first glance: "along with the rest; as well", so how does it come to mean "means by which" when coupled with "where"?

    "Means by which" is certainly the modern meaning. The OEtD just lists as as a compound of "where" without explaining it.
    YOU BULLY! (just kidding ;))

    For "wherewithal." I would go with the archaic definition for "withal": "with that, therewith" (also from dictionary.com).
    That would yield "where + with that" or "where + therewith" for "wherewithal." Does that sound better?
     

    danielfranco

    Senior Member
    Very illuminating. Thank you all for contributing to this thread, knickers in a bunch, or not.
    I think what made me wonder about this theme was Frank Herbert insisting throughout his six books in the "Dune" chronicles that language always tends to shorten names and common nouns, and to simplify the lexicon. I don't see how English has been simplified by adopting a lexicon of over a million words (or something like that, I haven't actually counted them…), and adopting phrases that require quite a lot more words to express the idea. But, I suposse it could be part of the reason why the one hundred most used words in the English language are mostly monosyllabic (and germanic!). Perhaps that's where the simplification has been taken place.

    Anyway, thanks again, and please carry on.
    D
     
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