Interesting bit from Geoff Pullum at Lanugage Log today, on his discovery of the Scottish preposition “furth”, as in “furth of Glasgow” with the meaning “outside of” or “away from” Glasgow.
He talks a little about the place that the familiar “forth” holds in modern English usage, including a rundown of occurances of the word in the WSJ archives, but a couple things struck me:
1. Where does “further” come in to the history of “furth”? If one can be furth of Glasgow, could one be (or at least have been, at some muddy point in Scots linguistic history) further of Glasgow?
[Update: while it doesn't actually dig into an answer to the question, I have to admit I missed outright this late line from Geoff on the subject of further: "(Note, though, that as Jim Smith points out to me, all modern English dialects have preserved the comparative and superlative forms further and furthest.)"]
2. “Go forth” is listed in Pullum’s corpus rundown as an afterthought, mixed in with “hiss forth” and “tumble forth” and a couple dozen other relatively uncommon also-rans. (Set, bring, and put forth are the three big hitters, along with the fixed expression “back and forth”.)
Go forth? Not common? How could that be? It’s easily the first phrase I think of when thinking of “forth”. What gives?
Ah, but I grew up in Catholic churches; and how often did I hear God or some prophet or metatron suggest (or some narrative simply record) that this or that figure should or did go forth — to multiply, to war, to Galilee, to sin no more. And regardless of the texts in the readings or the homily, every Sunday had a guaranteed coda: “Go forth, to love and serve the Lord.”
So I suppose that as long as the WSJ isn’t quoting biblical passages or Catholic mass tropes, “go forth” as a rarity might be perfectly expected after all. Oh well.
(It probably doesn’t help my case that the second thing I thought of, after “go forth”, was the programming language Forth. I am not a reliable barometer of baseline forthiness, I don’t think.)