Word of the Day: forgo

Word of the Day: forgo


The word is commonly but inaccurately spelled forego, but those are really two separate and unrelated verbs. The fore in forego means first or before, so that a foregone conclusion is a conclusion that comes before any argument or declaration, since none is necessary. That prefix fore is related to all kinds of words in English that have to do with priority in time or position. The ones beginning with f come from the German pantry (first, forward), while those beginning with p typically come from the Latin wine cellar, either borrowed directly or imported through French (prime, prior; primrose = first rose of spring, pristine = in its ancient original condition, not necessarily clean; prince = the first citizen, head of state).


But the prefix for in forgo is the same as the much more common ver in German:


Verdammt!” shouted the Fuehrer. “Someone has been eating my porritch!”


That prefix often implies something done inside out, or something done to its bitter end, as in its Latin cognate per-; something perfect has literally been done to its completion; but someone perfidus has taken his trustiness and twisted it into mendacity. It’s one thing to be turbed, but to be perturbed – perturbatus – is to be besieged by a whole turbulence of troubles. In English the prefix survives in forswear, which means to swear off, as in forswear thy foolish ways, or to swear falsely, as in the villain is forsworn. It also survives in forget, which means that you haven’t got it in your head anymore; forspent, which means you’ve spent it all, drat it; and forlorn, cf. German verloren. Our word forlorn was the old past participle of the Old English verb forleosan, to lose, with the medial s turning to r by a process known as rhoticization, which is the process by which something turns into an r (file that under The Lonely Lives of Philologists).


And it survives in a couple of other words, including forgo.

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