Forgive and Forget
Forgive and Forget are two of the commonest words in English (forget is 875th, forgive is 3629th out of around a million words) But what do the words mean? Okay, we know what they mean. But what do they mean?
Forgive means to ‘pardon an offence’, a sense which developed from the original meaning of ‘grant, allow, give’; note that give is the root.
Forget means to ‘lose the power to recall to the mind, to not remember’. The root word, get, means/meant to grasp. Forget, when you get down to it, means to ‘un-get’, not grasp, or lose something from the mind.
For-give and For-get
Mark the prefix for– which crops up in both words. What does for mean in these words?
For– is actually a prefix that used to be extremely common in English. Indeed, it maintains this place in many other Germanic languages including Swedish and German (ver-). It is no longer used productively in English. Which is a shame, as it is such a useful prefix.
The meaning of For–
For– usually means ‘away, opposite, completely’. To expand on that, it implies (meaning 1) intensive or completive action or process, and (meaning 2) something going amiss, turning out for the worse, ending in failure. It often implies both senses at once.
So forgive is (meaning 1) to completely give. Whilst forget is (meaning 2) to fail to [mentally] get.
The prefix, which is common across the Germanic languages, seems to be an old development of the word fore, meaning ‘forward, in front of’. This development makes sense when you consider words like foremost, foreman, forthright. Yet for– and fore– have come to be separate affixes spelt differently.
I talk about the concept of word buttresses. That is, words or phrases or usages which support less strong words and prevent them falling out of use; indeed, which may reinvigorate their use. So there’s hope that some commonly used for– words might act as such buttresses. Unfortunately for the rather useful for-, whose power I first realised as a teenager reading poetry which clearly used the prefix with proper force, many of the common words in for– are rather difficult to break down into self-explaining parts. Take the following.
- forsooth: completely (meaning one) + sooth ‘truth’
- forgo: ‘refrain from’: (meaning one and two) + go: ‘to completely away go’
- forbid: ‘prohibit’: (meaning one and two) + bid ‘command’ (think: “Do someone’s bidding”)
- forlorn: ‘wretched’, originally meaning ‘deprived of, lost, abandoned’: (meaning one and two) + lorn, old past participle of lose; so, ‘completely lost’
- forsake: ‘sake’, originally meaning ‘to struggle, dispute, wrangle; accuse, blame’
Let’s not forsake for-
For– is a great word-forming device. Sadly, it is no longer in vogue and many (?most) words in for– have fallen out of use. Why not let’s trying bringing them back? They’re great!
- forblack adj completely black
- fordeal n precedence, advantage; a store, a reserve; adj in reserve, in hand
- fordo vb tr kill, put an end to life; destroy, ruin, spoil; abolish (an institution), annul (a law); do away with, remove (an immaterial object, esp. sin); undo, make powerless, counteract (poison, temptation, aso).
- fordone pp exhausted, tired out
- forgather vb intr gather together, assemble; meet (with); associate (with), take up with.
- forold vb intr grow old, wear out with age
- forpine vb tr & intr (cause to) pine or waste away, torture
- forset vb tr beset, bar (a way), waylay, entrap (a person)
- forshape vb tr transform, (rare) disfigure
- forslack vb intr slacken; tr be slack in, neglect, lose or spoil by slackness or decay
- forslow vb tr be slow about, lose or spoil by sloth, delay, neglect; hinder, obstruct; intr be slow or dilatory
- forspeak vb tr deny; renounce, (rare) forbid; speak against, speak ill of; bewitch or charm, esp. by excessive praising
- forspeaker n a witch, an enchanter
- forspend vb tr spend, squander; exhaust, tire out
- forstand vb tr oppose, withstand; understand
- forthink vb tr despise, distrust; refl & intr repent (of), be sorry (for, that, to do); tr think of with pain or regret, repent of, be sorry for
- forwander vb intr weary oneself with wandering, wander far and wide
- forwarn vb tr prohibit, forbid [note the difference to forewarn]
- forwaste vb tr waste, use up, exhaust, lay waste, make feeble
- forwear vb tr wear out, weat away, exhaust
- foryield vb tr pay, recompense, requite
And you could easily make up new words. Try it yourself. Just remember, it means to “totally”, but often with a negative sense. And remember, there
(meaning 1) intensive or completive action or process; (meaning 2) something going amiss, turning out for the worse, ending in failure.
© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry