Printable Version
Pronunciation: for-go Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: To go without, to refrain from, to deny oneself.

Notes: Forgo should be the correct spelling of this word, but forego is now also accepted. Since the prefix on forego is more closely associated with the sense before, this verb's meaning should be restricted to "go before, precede", a meaning it does sometimes bear. The prefix for-, on the other hand, was used in Old English to create verbs with a sense of exclusion or loss, such as forbid, forget, forsake, and forfeit. Thus, it fits the meaning of today's word better. Forgo conjugates in the same way as its parent go, so we have forgoes, forgoing, forgone and forwent in the past tense. Someone who forgoes something is a forgoer.

In Play: Any act of self-denial, from the self-serving to the selfless, can occasion the use of today's word: "I think I'll forgo the hors d'oeuvres; I just glimpsed the dessert trolley." It does, however, seem to arise frequently when food is at stake, "As ever, Marvin forewent the haggis during its traditional arrival in the dining room. But he could not forgo a taste of it afterwards."

Word History: Old English for- can be traced to a Germanic root fer- of similar meaning. Beyond that, we can detect the fertile Proto-Indo-European root per "forward, through", which as usual changed its initial [p] to an [f] on entering the Germanic languages, where it also gave rise to far, forth, further, fro, first and our old friend fore-, among others. In passing through other languages, per has provided us with the prefixes proto-, para-, and peri- and words as varied as paradise, perestroika, prince and prow. Go comes from PIE ghe-, also responsible for gait, gate and the gang of gangway. (We shouldn't forgo an expression of our gratitude to Grant Hutchison of Dundee, Scotland, for suggesting today's often overlooked Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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