Wednesday, February 20, 2008

By and Large

By and large I am a pretty simple guy.

By and large I don’t get riled up about much.

By and large my peccadilloes are relatively miniscule.

Whoa. Let’s stop a minute before I get too carried away with my excessive verbiage. I like words. I like to look up the meanings of words, this is called the etiology or more precisely the etymology of words. By and large it is kind of a geek pastime.

By and large. That is an interesting phrase isn’t it? A friend of mine gave me a desk calendar that has etymologies on it and “by and large” showed up. This is a nautical phrase. A phrase used by sailors. When you have a LOT OF wind or a “favorable” wind, one in your direction, you say you have a “large” wind. You then use you large square sails to catch the most out of this large wind. “By” is a little more difficult, because it means the opposite: sailing against a large wind or you sail “by the wind.” So when you have a ship that can sail in a large wind, in a favorable direction and by the wind in the opposite direction you have a ship that can handle anything: by and large. It was used first that we know of in 1669 in the Mariners Magazine “this ship handled in fair weather and foul, by and large.” Since then it has come to mean “generally” or “for the most part.”

We use those phrases all the time in English and it is confusing to those who are learning the language. I have a Korean friend that I golf with and I will say things like, “You are ahead of me by one stroke” or “I can’t get down on the ball in my swing because my back is killing me” or “I have a serious case of aquaphobia.” Think about these phrases as a person learning English would. Ahead by a stroke even those you have LESS strokes to lead in golf? Get down on your ball? Back killing you? Aquaphobia?

Words can be very powerful and very confusing. Words can sting and can calm. Words fascinate me by and large.

As to peccadilloes and miniscule? Well, I’ll let you look them up.

No comments: