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A story of two plights

A story of two plights


Q: The Merriam-Webster entry for “plight” lists “to place or give in pledge” and “a solemnly given pledge” earlier than the one definition I’m accustomed to, “an unlucky, troublesome, or precarious scenario.” The place do the primary two come from?

A: The phrase “plight” is now often a noun for an unlucky situation, however some dictionaries embody it as a uncommon noun for a pledge and a uncommon verb that means to pledge (as in to “plight one’s troth”).

Because it seems, the pledging and the unlucky senses aren’t associated etymologically, although they might be linked semantically. In different phrases, the 2 senses have completely different ancestors, however an ancestor of 1 could have influenced the that means of one other.

So why does Merriam-Webster listing these two obscure senses earlier than the standard that means of “plight” in the present day? Right here’s the reply, from the dictionary’s explanatory notes:

“The order of senses inside an entry is historic: the sense recognized to have been first utilized in English is entered first. This isn’t to be taken to imply, nevertheless, that every sense of a multisense phrase developed from the instantly previous sense. It’s altogether doable that sense 1 of a phrase has given rise to sense 2 and sense 2 to sense 3, however incessantly sense 2 and sense 3 could have arisen independently of each other from sense 1.”

When “plight” first appeared in Previous English, it was each a noun (pliht) with the sense of “peril, hazard, or threat” and a verb (plihtan) that means “to hazard or compromise (life, honour, and many others.),” in line with the Oxford English Dictionary.

These two senses are actually out of date, however they led to the pledging that means and will have influenced the unlucky sense that’s widespread today.

The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots says the Previous English phrases are derived from two prehistoric roots which have been reconstructed by linguists—the Germanic plegan (liable for) and the Proto-Indo-European dlegh- (have interaction oneself). The notion right here could also be one in all taking accountability for or participating in one thing harmful.

The primary OED quotation for the noun, which makes use of the plural plihtas, is from the Vespasian Psalter, an eighth-century illuminated manuscript written in Latin and Previous English:

“Circumdederunt me dolores mortis et pericula inferni inuenerunt me: ymbsaldun mec sar deðes & plihtas helle gemoettun mec” (“The pains of dying surrounded me, and the plights [dangers] of hell beset me”). Psalms 114:3; the passage is Psalms 116:3 in later English translations.

The earliest Oxford instance for the verb is from a legislation enacted in 1008 by Æðelred II, King of the Anglo-Saxons from 978 to 1016, a interval of intense battle with the Danes that led him to flee briefly to Normandy:

“Gyf hwa butan leafe of fyrde gewende, þe se cyning sylf on sy, plihte him sylfum & ealre his are” (“If anybody deserts a military that’s below the command of the king himself, it shall plight [endanger] his life and all his honor”).

Æðelred, now often known as Æthelred the Unready (extra precisely, the In poor health-Suggested), was ousted for just a few months by King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark. The nickname, which appeared dozens of years after Æðelred died, was a play on his identify, from æðele (noble) and ræd (counsel or recommendation) in Previous English.

In early Center English, the OED says, the verb “plight” took on the sense of “to place (one thing) below threat of forfeiture; to provide in pledge; to pledge or have interaction (one’s troth, religion, oath, promise, and many others.).”

The dictionary’s earliest quotation makes use of iplicht (“plighted”) within the marital sense: “folliche iplicht trouðe” (“a foolishly plighted troth”). From the  Ancrene Riwle, an nameless information for monastic ladies written someday earlier than 1200.

The dictionary’s first quotation for the noun used to imply a pledge is from an nameless Center English translation of the account in Genesis of the covenant between Abraham and Abimelech, the King of Gerar:

“He unhealthy him maken siker pligt / Of luue and trewðe in frendes rigt” (“He bade him make a positive plight [pledge] of affection and reality in friendship”). From The Center English Genesis and Exodus (1968), edited by Olof Sigfrid Arngart.

Though the pledge sense of “plight” is uncommon now, it does present up every now and then. An article printed March 18, 2021, in The Atlantic, for instance, refers to Prince Harry and his marriage to Meghan Markle this manner: “He had plighted his troth to this surprising and really stunning lady.”

As for in the present day’s ordinary sense of “plight” (an unlucky situation), Center English borrowed the utilization across the starting of the 14th century from Anglo-Norman French, the place plitplistpleit, and many others., meant a scenario, a situation, or a state.

The French time period finally comes from the Latin plicare (to fold) and the Proto-Indo-European root plek- (to plait), in line with American Heritage’s Indo-European dictionary. (“Plait” can imply “pleat,” “weave,” or “braid.”)

So how did an historic time period for pleating, weaving, braiding, or folding come to imply an unlucky situation in English? As we wrote in 2016, phrases widespread to stitching, weaving, and textiles are sometimes used metaphorically. To borrow a cliché of guide reviewing, English is a richly woven tapestry.

When the noun “plight” first appeared in English on this new sense, it merely meant a impartial situation, because it had meant in French. Nonetheless, the English time period was typically modified by a unfavourable adjective, as within the earliest OED quotation:

“Yt was in a sori pleyt, / Reuliche toyled from side to side” (“It [the body] was in a sorry plight, / Pitifully pulled from side to side”). From Þe Desputisoun Bitwen þe Bodi and þe Soule (“The Debate Between the Physique and the Soul”), an nameless poem written round 1300.

Because the OED explains, the sense of “plight” as a impartial situation seems “in early use typically with modifying phrase, as evilsorrywoeful, however in trendy utilization nearly all the time having unfavourable connotations even with out modifier.”

The dictionary’s newest instance of the noun makes use of it negatively and not using a modifier: “Paralyzed, unable to talk, shedding the power to swallow and but completely conscious of her plight” (The New York Instances, Aug. 3, 2003).

How did “plight” evolve from a impartial to a unfavourable situation? The OED means that the unfavourable sense could have arisen as a result of the impartial Center English noun was “related semantically” with the etymologically unrelated Previous English time period for hazard.

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