Saturday, April 11, 2009

All's Fare?

The Grammar Nazi is up late, busily pursuing (pursue pursue pursue pursue pursue) some projects ranging from Uncharted to preparing a lesson on living in peace and harmony with other people even though you want to kill them. But that doesn't mean vigilance is down.

How are you fairing? If you don't notice anything wrong with that last sentence, you're not faring well. Unless you're a boatmaker.

Faring is the present participle of the word fare, which means "to experience good or bad treatment, to get on," according to our friends at Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (sorry, my American Heritage dictionary is at work; I'm at home right now). Fare comes from the Old English word faer, which entails a journey, or a coming or going, as in the line from J.R.R. Tolkein's book The Hobbit, spoken by the eagles to the dwarves, Gandalf, and Bilbo after they resuced the wanderers formthe Goblins: Farewell wherever you fare, till your eyries receive you at the journey's end. Tolkein, of course, being the linguist he is, uses the older meaning of the word fare, to poetic effect.

Fairing, with that extra I, does not mean the same thing as faring at all. Fairing is the present participle of the verb form of fair, which means "to produce regular surfaces of the correct form," particularly in the context of designing and building boats. Fair also comes from Old English, but not from the word faer, but rather faeger, which means "beautiful, good-looking or attractive," as in the attractive lines of a boat. (That meaning, of course, carries through to the modern adjectival and adverbial forms of "fair.") Faeger is also an English surname.

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