Posted: 22 October 2013 07:23 AM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  3101
Joined  2007-01-30

Interesting etymology for this one. OED explains (although as Byron wrote of Coleridge: “Explaining metaphysics to the nation/I wish he would explain his explanation").

lest, conj.

Etymology:  Old English phrase þý lǽs þe , lit. ‘whereby less’ = Latin quōminus (þý instrumental of the demonstrative and relative pronoun + lǽs less adj. + þe relative particle). In Middle English the first word of the phrase was dropped, and les þe became les te in accordance with the general rule that þ after s changed into t.

It’s the ‘instrumental of the demonstrative and relative pronoun’ and ‘relative particle’ that I’m unsure of. Isn’t the instrumental the ablative? Is the pronoun thou? Does the Old English phrase translate as ‘thy less thee’?

OK, enough obtuseness demonstrated!

Posted: 22 October 2013 08:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Joined  2007-03-21

In the FWIW department, the phrase appears in the Old English Gospel of Matthew (well, many other places as well but for demonstration purposes here) Chapter 25:9

‘Nese; þý·lǽs þe wē and ġē næbben ġenōg:

and the AV translates it:

Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you:

it looks like Þe is the relative particle “that” as in “so that not” or “lest”.

But I’m way out of my depth here.

[ Edited: 22 October 2013 08:43 AM by Oecolampadius ]
Posted: 22 October 2013 03:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Joined  2007-02-14

The ablative took over the job of the instrumental in Latin, the so-called ablative of means.  In English, when it wasn’t there on its own it had the dative fill in for it.

Posted: 23 October 2013 03:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Joined  2007-01-03

Old English has a defective instrumental case; it exists only in masculine and neuter singular adjectives and pronouns. Elsewhere the dative is used to express means. (There is no ablative in Old English.)

Teasing þy læs þe apart is tough. Generally students of Old English learn it as single lexical unit meaning lest. It makes no literal sense in modern English ("by which less that” is probably the closest you can come).

Posted: 23 October 2013 10:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Total Posts:  303
Joined  2007-02-15

Mmm, it’s a goodie all right!

More in the FWIW dept, I sense a parallel with modern “the more the better”.

It’s like “the last the...”.

I think most Germanic languages share something similar (’je’ in German f.e.).

Can anyone blast this nascent nonsense of mine out the water with some sense?