Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

Hello, Real Spellers.  I'm a habitual lurker, but this is my first post.  I hope these questions are worthy of your scrutiny!


My husband came across the word agone while reading The Scarlet Letter.  The novel was written in 1850, but apparently Hawthorne attempted to use words characteristic of the story’s seventeenth century setting.  I hied myself to Etymology Online, and found  agone mentioned in this entry for ago:


early 14c., shortened form of O.E. agan, agone "departed, passed away," pp. of an obsolete verb ago "to go forth," formed from a- "away" (perhaps here used as an intensive prefix) + gan "go" (see go). Agone remains a dialectal variant.


So, it seems that we can posit the word sum a + go --> ago, with the prefix <a> having the sense of “away,” or functioning as an intensifier.


This started me thinking about the iconic <go>/<do> matrix, and of course, the next step was to wonder about the structure of the word ado.  Here is Etymonline’s entry for ado:


late 14c., "conflict, fighting; difficulty, trouble," compounded from at do, dialectal in Norse influenced areas of England for to do, as some Scandinavian languages used at with infinitive of a verb where Modern English uses to. For sense development, cf. to-do. Meaning "fuss" is from early 15c. Also used in Middle English for "dealings, traffic," and "sexual intercourse" (both c.1400).


This makes it appear that the <a> in ado is a shortened (assimilated?) form of <at>, which has the sense of to as we currently use that word to form infinitives in English.


My questions are:


  1. Is our modern word ado considered a compound word, or a base only?  Does the answer depend on whether there are other words in which the ostensible first element <a> is really a shortened form of the Old Norse <at> meaning to?  Or must ado be considered a single base since there is no modern usage of <at> or <a> meaning to?  (Or is there?)


  1. If it is indeed correct to posit a word sum a + do --> ado, then could one add the prefix <a> to the <do>/<go> matrix?  This is entirely separate from the question of whether this would be an advisable thing to do from an instructional standpoint.  The question really comes down to whether you can put a spelling of an element into a matrix if that element has different senses when fixed to different bases.

Looking forward to your insights,


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