Printable Version
Pronunciation: bi-for-hænd Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adverb

Meaning: In advance, up front, ahead of time, prior, before an anticipated event or action.

Notes: Here is a compound that has lost its etymological moorings. It means essentially "before", so, why the hand? It historically has two antonyms, afterhand and behindhand, both meaning "in arrears", suggesting a historical association with payment.

In Play: Today this adverb has no limitations on its use: "Hildreth knew beforehand that Merle planned to put a frog in the watercooler but didn't tell anybody." No matter how serious the expression: "When Rhoda Book begins a new novel, she says it's like jumping into deep waters not knowing beforehand whether she will be able to swim."

Word History: Today's Good Word is obviously a compound comprising before + hand. It is probably a loan translation of Anglo-Norman avantmain "before + hand", no doubt influenced by some English phrase like 'before handing (it over)', associated with the French word's referring most often to monetary transactions. Before, like its synonym afore, was based on the English rendition of PIE per-/por- "forward, in front of, before", which also emerged in English as for, in Latin as pro "before, for", Russian as pro "about" and pra- "grand-", as in praded "grandfather", Greek paros "before, formerly", German vor "before". The origin of hand remains a mystery. It is limited to Germanic languages: Dutch and Swedish hand, German Hand, Danish and Norwegian hånd, Romance languages use descendants of Latin manus and Slavic, the descendants of Old Church Slavic ruka. (A word of gratitude is owed David Myer for his activity in the Agora, where he has brought up many intriguing Good Words like today's since 2011.)

Dr. Goodword,

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