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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Thu Mar 22, 2007 10:43 pm

• agley •

Pronunciation: ê-glayHear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective-Adverb

Meaning: Askew, awry, crooked.

Notes: Today's odd little Good Word belongs to a substantive category of adjectives that usually serve equally as adverbs without the usual suffix -ly: "His plans all went agley." They include aglow, aboard, and adrift. They are peculiar in that, as adjectives, they are used only in predicate position: "Your glasses are agley" but not "your agley glasses".

In Play: Probably the best use of today's Good Word, certainly the most widely recognizable instance, is found in Robert Burn's poem, "To a Mouse" in Poems (1785): "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley." John Steinbeck snipped and smoothed out Of Mice and Men from this line for his 1937 novel set in the Great Depression. Enjoy the rarity of this word and don't let the mystery of its origin dissuade you from using it: "I don't play darts with Rick O'Shea in the pub since his throw is apt to go agley after he has put down a few pints."

Word History: This word is another odd little lexical gift from the Scots. a- in this instance is a reduction of on, once written as a separate word but later merged with the noun it attaches to. Gley "to squint, look askance" is another Scottish peculiarity that somehow slipped into English. It seems to be related to gledge "squint, look askance" but exactly how is unclear. Indeed, how Scots English comes by most such lexical oddities is a great mystery that we will not resolve here. Enjoy the mystery. (Chris Stewart seldom goes agley in suggesting words for our series; he always sends us words like today's with fascinating stories that tell us something about ourselves.)
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Postby Perry » Fri Mar 23, 2007 9:39 am

PG Wodehouse often had Bertie Wooster and Jeeves discussing the Burns quote. Bertie would wonder if such a word as agley really exist, and Jeeves would explain that Burns was a Scot.

BTW, the use of aft instead of oft[en] is another interesting example of Scots English.
"Time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening all at once. Lately it hasn't been working."

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Postby Stargzer » Fri Mar 23, 2007 7:50 pm

Dr. Goodword wrote: ... Robert Burn's poem, "To a Mouse" in Poems (1785): "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley." ...

In other words:

"No matter what it sounds like, 'Gang aft agley' is not a nautical command from the captain to the crew directing them to move to the back of the boat!" said Stargzer, sternly.

"To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them."
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