I tend to groan when I see links with titles like “X Words That…” because they’re usually unfunny invented words, allegedly untranslatable words, or some other category that’s been done to death, but I perked up when I saw that 12 Old Words that Survived by Getting Fossilized in Idioms was by Arika Okrent, one of my favorite popular writers on language (see this LH review), and even more when I realized that it was actually useful: “There are some old words, however, that are nearly obsolete, but we still recognize because they were lucky enough to get stuck in set phrases that have lasted across the centuries. Here are 12 lucky words that survived by getting fossilized in idioms.” Here’s the first:
You rarely see a “wend” without a “way.” You can wend your way through a crowd or down a hill, but no one wends to bed or to school. However, there was a time when English speakers would wend to all kinds of places. “Wend” was just another word for “go” in Old English. The past tense of “wend” was “went” and the past tense of “go” was “gaed.” People used both until the 15th century, when “go” became the preferred verb, except in the past tense where “went” hung on, leaving us with an outrageously irregular verb.
Succinct and satisfying; read ‘em all!
Another entrant in the word-list category: 18 obsolete words, which never should have gone out of style, by Carmel Lobello. From snoutfair (“A person with a handsome countenance”) to zafty (“A person very easily imposed upon”), they might give you a chuckle—and groak (“To silently watch someone while they are eating, hoping to be invited to join them”) was featured right here at LH a few years ago. (Thanks, Sven!)