THE MYSTERY OF PRINTING.

A few years ago I posted about the other, rarer mystery, the one meaning ‘craft, art; trade, profession, calling’ and deriving from post-classical Latin misterium ‘duty, office, service,’ altered from classical Latin ministerium by confusion with mystērium ‘mystery’ (in the usual sense’); at DC Blog I just found a beautiful example of its use in this discussion of the history of to-day, to-night, and to-morrow (which lost their hyphens around a century ago):

The steady disappearance of the usage in the 20th century was influenced by Fowler, who in his Dictionary of Modern English Usage comes out against it: ‘The lingering of the hyphen, which is still usual after the to of these words, is a very singular piece of conservatism’. He blames printers for its retention, in a typical piece of Fowlerish irony: ‘it is probably true that few people in writing ever dream of inserting the hyphen, its omission being corrected every time by whose who profess the mystery of printing.’

Comments

  1. J.W. Brewer says:

    At least if you trust one wikiarticle’s etymology, the medieval “mystery plays” were so called not because of the supernatural/sacramental overtones of “mystery” (whose Greek antecedent had an ecclesistical sense millenia before Agatha Christie was born), but because they were typically run by the various craft guilds individually devoted to the art and mystery of baking, or cooperage, or goldsmithery, or what have you. Although another wikiarticle claims that this was Middle English wordplay capitalizing on the two different senses . . .

  2. J.W. Brewer says:

    Ah, I see this subject was hashed out in the prior comment thread and indeed another point I might have made was made by me in that prior thread . . .

  3. I’m never sure whether it’s more gratifying or troubling to come across an old comment one finds enjoyable, well written, and/or appropriate but can no longer remember making. And more than once I’ve posted something I thought was interesting only to have a reader point out that I posted the same thing a few years ago.

  4. …by whose who profess the mystery of printing.’
    I think “profess” adds to the charm of this use of the word.

  5. dearieme says:

    What a to-do about little.

  6. That’s “…by those who”, surely? An appropriate place for a typo, I suppose…

  7. I’m never sure whether it’s more gratifying or troubling to come across an old comment one finds enjoyable, well written, and/or appropriate but can no longer remember making.
    The best/worst is when you read through your own old comment with enjoyment and approval but don’t notice it’s your own work until you come to the end.

  8. Exactly!

  9. What a to-do about little.
    Yes, that looks like a place where Fowler couldn’t have avoided a hyphen.

  10. Bathrobe says:

    I dreamt last night that Hat had closed this thread with a message asking for further subjects we could profitably repeat, to which i was determined to be the first one to reply:
    “We could do with another anti-prescriptivist rant. You can never have too many of them.”
    I’ve got to try and diversify my browsing habits.

  11. Aha, LH is infiltrating people’s dreams. Slowly my plan of world conquest comes to fruition!

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