Long Words Bother Me

Long Words Bother Me

Illustration by E.H. Shepard

Winnie the Pooh[1] once famously said, “Long words bother me”. I share[2] that sentiment, at least as regards[3] solid words made up of[4] three existing words. Why do we write “nevertheless[5] and never “never the less” or “never-the-less”? Running three (or more) words together[6] is not common in English and generally speaking it is something that we would associate with the excesses of the German language. Nevertheless5, there are at least 10 examples from Standard English and some, like “nevertheless” date back to the 13th Century. Another 13th-century three-in-one compound word is “whatsoever[7]. 14th-century three-in-one compounds include “inasmuch (as)”[8], “insomuch (that)[9]” and “insofar (as)[10]”. Interestingly, these were calque translations[11] of the Old French en tant (que) and the Latin in tantum (ut). They are thus[12] related to en tanto (que) in Spanish. Still in the 1500s, when “al(though this) be it[13] became “albeit[14], it lost most of its letters! However, “Nevertheless” has a much younger brother: “nonetheless”, which was contracted into a single word (in imitation of “nevertheless”), around 1930.

All the words above are bookish[15] and all other three-in-one compounds pertain to[16] legalese[17]. Nevertheless5, solid words made from more than three words tend to be informal. “Whatchamacallit” – a car crash of a word from “what you may call it” – dates from 1928, while “wayagonnado” (from “what are you going to do?”) is even more recent. Curiously, “nonetheless[18] – an alternative form of “nevertheless” dates from almost exactly the same year as whatchamacallit”.

When people discuss[19] these three-in-one words on the internet they tend to include the (impressively long) “notwithstanding[20]. Unfortunately, notwithstanding its length, this word is not a three-in-one compound. It comes from not + withstanding[21]. Nevertheless5, “notwithstanding” is worth mentioning[22] in this whimsical[23] article on etymology because it is a calque translation11 of the Old French term nonobstant (whose cognate[24] in Spanish is no obstante). There is even a English legalese17 term “non-obstante”. The Old French, Spanish and legalese terms mean “that does not stand in the way of[25] or if you prefer “that does not withstand21. Now long words bother you, too!

[1] a teddy bear in a series of children’s books by A.A. Milne

[2] to share – (in this case) agree with

[3] as regards – in relation to

[4] to be made up of – be composed from

[5] nevertheless – however, notwithstanding, in spite of that

[6] to run together (run-ran-run) – join, fuse

[7] whatsoever – (used to emphasis a negative) at all

[8] inasmuch as – to the extent that, considering that

[9] insomuch that – considering that, inasmuch as

[10] insofar as – to the extent that

[11] calque translationword-for-word translation

[12] thus – in this way

[13] although this be iteven if it is true that

[14] albeiteven though

[15] bookishliterary, erudite

[16] to pertain to – belong to, come from

[17] legalese – the language of law, legal jargon

[18] nonethelessnevertheless, however

[19] to discuss – (false friend) debate, talk about

[20] notwithstanding – in spite of, despite; nevertheless

[21] to withstand (-stand/-stood/-stood) – (literally) resist

[22] is worth mentioning – should be mentioned, merits a mention

[23] whimsicalplayful, capricious

[24] its cognate – a word that is etymologically related to it (typically in another language)

[25] to stand in the way of (stand-stood-stood) – impede, prevent, resist


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