• offing •
Pronunciation: aw-fing • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1.That area of the sea away from the shore but still visible, originally, just beyond anchorage. 2. The immediate future; used almost exclusively in the phrase, in the offing "occurring soon, imminent, at hand".
Notes: The crystallized phrase "in the offing" has virtually erased from our collective memory the original sense of this very Good Word, one of the most beautiful in the language. It is even more beautiful for being purely English: neither borrowed nor deftly lifted from a neighboring patois as English is wont to do. It is an orphan without links to other words except the adverb-preposition, off, that you see lurking there in its root.
In Play: The beauty of today's word lies in its sound and the sea air that inhabits it. It is the perfect playmate for another Good Word, lagoon: "Beryl and Wellington lounged casually by the sleepy lagoon, their eyes lazily following a trim old schooner slipping past in the offing." Would such a respite be in the offing for me!
Word History: It is rare to find nouns derived from adverbs or prepositions, but today's Good Word is exceptional in this respect, too. Off started out as a variant of of just as that word became a preposition. Off remained an adverb for centuries, and only recently became a preposition itself, e.g. "Dad just fell off the porch, mom" (not "off of", as when it was an adverb). Of and off come from an interesting family, the black sheep of which was another previous Good Word, offal. Most peculiarly, however, the word puny, is a distant relation. This word is a corruption of French puisne from puis "then, later" + ne "born", plus the assumption that children born later are weaker. Now, French puis is the great-grandchild of Latin post "after, later" which comes from the same PIE root (apo), as off.