• unawares •
ên-ê-werz • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adverb
Meaning: 1. Without thinking, without being aware, inadvertently, unconsciously. 2. By surprise, suddenly and without warning. We are generally caught unawares by unusual things.
Notes: In this series I often mention that a Good Word adjective may be converted to an adverb "the usual way", by adding the suffix -ly. Today's word is an oddity: the adverb for unaware is formed by adding the ubiquitous suffix -s: unawares. This is so unusual, most dictionaries are now disposed to accept mundane unawarely as an option.
In Play: The first sense of today's word reveals a simple adverb for the adjective unaware: "Mother could make the greatest salmagundi unawares, but I can't make one as good with a recipe." The second meaning goes slightly astray from the first: "The financial crash of 2007 caught most of the world unawares, leaving many of us much the poorer."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a lexical palimpsest. If we remove the final -s, we are left with unaware, the negative of aware, which means "conscious, vigilant". Aware itself is an 'adjective-adverb' that occurs only in the predicate: "The lady was aware of . . ." but not "
the aware lady". Most such words carry the prefix a-, e.g. afloat, asleep, aloft, as does aware. Remove that prefix and we come to a noun ware "alert, on guard" that hasn't been used for 500 years, even though its adjective, wary, is still around. We also find it in beware, which was originally two words: be ware, in the sense of "be wary".
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