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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Do or die

I've recently seen a couple of instances where people have confused the simple word "do" for something fancier: "without further adieu" and the related "much adieu about nothing". The confusion is somewhat understandable with "ado", as this word no longer has an independent life in English outside the phrases "without further ado" and "much ado about nothing". In Old Norse, the languages which the Vikings living in the North of England spoke, the preposition marking the infinitive form of the verb was "at" rather than "to" (as it was in Anglo-Saxon and is in Modern English). In northern dialect, "at do" got somewhat squished into "ado", and this has survived only in the phrases mentioned above (and would probably not still survive in "much ado" were it not for Shakespeare's play).
Another surprising confusion is "make due" instead of "make do". "Make do" is admittedly a rather odd construction, since "make" is more likely to be followed directly by an adjective like "due" than by another verb. It is also, surprisingly, fairly recent, the OED's first quotation being from 1927. But by the forties it was part of the famous "Make do and Mend" of the British war effort on the home front. This "Reduce, Re-use, recycle" slogan before its time was first publicized in a pamphlet produced by the Ministry of Information in 1943.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder what Slavic infinitives look like ...

    Romanian infinitives are built with the preposition "a(d)" too, the "d" having been dropped long ago - as far as I know.


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.