Everyone Is Jumping Off the Brooklyn Bridge

Friday, September 29, 2006

Words to Your Mother: Axed

If someone has "axed" you, then they have struck you with a bladed tool, or perhaps terminated your job. However, as with my previous rant on the word flustrated, I am surprised to find that another meaning has some legitimacy.

Yes, The Free Dictionary lists one meaning of "ax" as "variant of ask". Read on:

ax has become stigmatized as substandard—a fate that has befallen other words, like ain't, that were once perfectly acceptable in literate circles.

Not convinced?

This should not be surprising since ax is a very old word in English, having been used in England for over 1,000 years. In Old English we find both scian and csian, and in Middle English both asken and axen. Moreover, the forms with cs or x had no stigma associated with them.

Still doesn't do it for you?

Chaucer used asken and axen interchangeably, as in the lines "I wol aske, if it hir will be/To be my wyf" and "Men axed hym, what sholde bifalle," both from The Canterbury Tales.

Unless you're from Iowa, I think you'd be hard-pressed to argue with Chaucer.

Besides, in a thousand years we'll all be saying it that way, so I guess we might as well get used to it again.

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