• agley •
Part of Speech: Adjective-Adverb
Meaning: Askew, awry, crooked, off course, askant.
Notes: Today's odd little Good Word belongs to a substantive category of adjectives that serve equally as adverbs without the usual suffix -ly: "His plans all went agley." This class of adjectives includes 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 expanded this thought into his 1937 novel set in the Great Depression, Of Mice and Men. 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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