Printable Version
Pronunciation: gayn-say Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. Take exception to, challenge, dispute, disagree with. 2. Declare false, oppose, hinder, contradict, speak or act against.

Notes: Today's Good Word is on the periphery of Modern English, but it is still reachable. It was fairly common in such publications as Forbes Magazine, the New York Times, and The Guardian as late as 2013. This verb is conjugated just like say: gainsays, gainsaying, gainsaid. The present participle, gainsaying, may be used as both an adjective and a noun.

In Play: The most common sense of today's word is the first above: "While I would not gainsay the qualifications of Gladys Friday, I would question her commitment to the job." The second sense is a bit rarer: "While he disagreed with much of what Siddy Hall said, he did not gainsay her right to say it."

Word History: In Middle English today's Good Word was gainsayen, a compound verb comprising gain-, "against" + sayen "say". "Against?" I hear you moaning. Yes, Modern English gain comes from Old English gegn- "against", cousin to German gegen "against". This is the sense of gain that we see not only in against, but also in again, which originally meant "back, over, against the flow". Gain was once productive, used to form such now-obsolete compounds gainclap "a counterstroke", gainbuy "redeem", and gainstand "to oppose". Middle English sayen came from Old English secgan which, in turn, came from Proto-Indo-European sekw- "say" via Old Germanic. It appeared in Old Norse as saga "tale", which English acquired from the Vikings. The PIE word is prominent in the Balto-Slavic languages, where we find Lithuanian sakyti "say" and sakme "tale", and Russian skaz "tale" and skazat' "to say".

Dr. Goodword,

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