Geoff Pullum, Language Log‘s resident curmudgeon (no offense meant, I’m one myself), believes there are lots more prepositions in English than most people realize; he recently discovered outwith, which I was familiar with, and today he’s happened on furth, which is new to me as well. He found it at a University of Glasgow Faculty of Arts page concerning transfer of credit whose headline reads “Grades received furth of Glasgow.” As he says, furth of Glasgow means ‘away from or outside of Glasgow’; this Scots usage is paralleled by English forth of (furth and forth are historically the same word), but the latter had its heyday half a millennium ago (Whan your mayster is forth of towne ‘when your master is out of town’). Here‘s the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue entry and here‘s the Scottish National Dictionary one (first supplement, second supplement). From the fifteenth century (Gilbert of the Haye’s Prose Manuscript): “The Romaynes put thame furth of the toune”; from February 2000: “At least 90% of all Presbyterians in Scotland still adhere to the national Kirk, which despite its woes and stumblings has still a bigger part in the nation’s life than the Church of England can claim furth of Hadrian’s Wall.”

Oh, and Geoff says: “(Yes, I know, the dictionaries all call it an adverb. All published dictionaries are wrong about where to draw the line between prepositions and adverbs. See Chapter 7 of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.)” And just to head you wits off at the pass, he also says: “The mail server at Language Log Plaza is fighting a losing battle against the tide of incoming mail offering variations on the phrase ‘furth of the Firth of Forth’. If people would like to stop mailing these in now, that would be nice.”


  1. I recently discovered anent in — what else? — one of Clark Ashton Smith’s stories of the macabre.

  2. “Use it once, you’re a wit; use it twice, you’re a half-wit.”
    “Geometric progression?”
    “Or worse.”

  3. Pullam mentions the entirely commonplace comparative and superlative ‘further’ and ‘furthest’– Makes me wonder how plain old ‘furth’ got lost.

  4. Let’s not forget abaft, either.

  5. “Grades received furth of Glasgow.”
    I don’t know why exactly, but I really, really, really love that phrase. Furth is due a resurgence, methinks.

  6. What a blow – I thought you were writing about Fürth at last.

  7. When I lived in Edinburgh, outwith was an everyday word in Scots English; furth and anent were rarer but still used from time to time. The English English “without” – to mean “outwith” – was a source of great amusement to wee boys at Sunday School. ‘”Without a city wall”, indeed – why would it have one, it was only a green hill?’

  8. Rather ancient Edinburgh joke: an English newcomer sees a message at the Co-operative – “Please uplift your messages outwith the store”. He thinks “I understand ‘please’.”

  9. I’m myself somewhat amazed by the Language Log allegation that you could spend your formative years in Scotland without encountering the preposition “outwith”. It is mentioned in all lists of Scottish English peculiarities, and you see it often enough in, say, Scottish online newspapers.

  10. I’m really tempted to start making up reasonable-sounding English prepositions and scattering them bime writing, just to see if anyone takes them downwith.

  11. Huh. I never noticed: there seem to be several prepositions that start with a-: athwart, astride, abaft, across, amidst, along, about, and now I’ve learned “anent”. Was a- ever productive? Are there any languages with productive prepositions (or postpositions)?

  12. Nearly got me there, HP. I took the first one to be a tyop, though.
    On that note, I wonder if someone here might like the good Zillion or just find him annoying (as I do). I suspect being familiar with Firefly and Whatsit, might help in elucidating meaning from his peculiar mannerisms of speech.
    This one amuses me, though.

  13. Today in an official letter from Ireland I encountered ‘in foot of’ (=pursuant to?).

  14. Flitcraft says

    Additional trivia – the Scots procedure for outlawing someone ‘furth of the realm’ (abroad) was for the King’s messengers to go down to the pier at Leith and blow three blasts of a horn and proclaim them outlaw. I know the idea was that someone in the shipping community might pass on the news to the outlaw, but I love the notion of blowing a horn in Leith to reach some malefactor who could be thousands of miles away.

  15. tiny crocodile says

    Saif, in Ireland “on foot of” would be a pretty commonly used phrase: “On foot of his advice, I bought a dictionary”. “In foot of” sounds like a mistake to my ear. However, a google search on google.ie gives up some of results: http://www.google.ie/search?hl=en&q=%22in+foot+of%22&btnG=Search&meta=cr%3DcountryIE

  16. tiny crocodile says

    Oh, and my Dad would always say “In dhonder field”, meaning the field yonder and beyond (and probably out of sight). Haven’t come across it anywhere else though.

  17. It’s in the OED:
    thonder (‘ðandǝ(r)) adv. and a. dial. (also thaander, thander, thender, thinder) = YONDER.
    Used in Scotland, Ulster, England from north border to Hereford, Leicester, E. Anglia.
    a1825 FORBY Vocab. E. Anglia, Thinder, adv., v. Yinder.
    c1847 [Common in Roxburghsh.] Thonder adv.
    18.. ROBSON Bards of Tyne (1863) 441 Then at last, aw heard her say, O! thonder is the Gardens.
    1854 A. E. BAKER Northampt. Gloss. s.v., He lives over thender.
    1876 T. M. BOUND Provinc. Herefordsh. (E.D.D.), Thander one is the man.
    1879 G. F. JACKSON Shropsh. Word-bk. Introd. 50 Yander, thander, adj.
    1887 DARLINGTON Folk-sp. S. Cheshire 70 Yonder has the forms yondur, yaandur, and dhondur.
    1899 Blackw. Mag. Feb. 168, (Sc.) I didna mak verra muckle o’ the fairming up-bye thonder.

  18. Just this very evening, not hours ago, I availed myself of a lovely Scottish Ale from Harpoon, the Firth of Forth. I will take that as a sign, from the gods, who surely speak most clearly through drink, that I should start with using the words furth and outwith, forthwith.

  19. I went looking for punnish references to “Furth of July”, and I’m dismayed to report that the google hits consist only of misspellings (no surprise there, and thank you Yahoo! Answers for doing your part) along with references to one or another fur-fetish celebration (about which I shouldn’t have been surprised).

  20. The overlap between [persons to whom the phrase “Fourth of July” leaps readily to mind] and [persons who are familiar with the word furth] is, I suspect, quite small, making the pun an unlikely one.

  21. tiny crocodile says

    Thanks for that! I had no idea how it was spelt. My dad’s from Ulster, so that makes all kinds of sense.

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