Saturday, April 24, 2010

“Moving in the Direction of the Bushy Hairstyle”?

I tend to misread certain words. Infarction, for example, I often read as infraction until I realize that the sentence makes no sense. Who knows how many times a sentence may have made sense with either word and I just continued on, thinking that someone had broken a rule when they actually were suffering from hypertension or atherosclerosis. The word of the week works similarly, for me at least. I only recently learned of it, but, now that I consider the situation, my eyes could have easily passed over it and wrongly thought it was the much more common word it resembles.
froward (FROH-werd or FROH-erd) — adjective: willfully contrary; not easily managed.
As I type this, I notice that Word’s autocorrect function keeps changing my every mention of froward to forward, so even computers may not be immune to the confusion between these two words. But maybe this little post will remind us all that this word exists and is not necessarily a typo.

Although froward can be explained as the opposite of toward — you know, as in to and fro? — toward isn’t often used in this sense anymore. In addition to the more common use of toward as a preposition (for literal directions, as in toward the house, or figurative ones, as in his attitude toward women), it can also mean “about to come,” “going on” (in the sense of There is work toward), “favorable,” or in obsolete senses, even “promising” or “compliant.” But while the definitions of toward that most apply to froward may be obsolete, froward apparently is still in use. It’s just not used very often.

The Online Etymology Dictionary explains that froward comes from the Old English fromweard, “turned from or away,” and could be also used to mean “about to depart,” “departing” or “doomed to die.” The word appears in various versions of the Bible. The King James version uses it in Psalms 18:26: “With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward,” which gets translated in other editions as something like “To the pure you show yourself pure, but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.” Froward also gets used in the King James version of Proverbs 4:24: “Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee,” which would be stated in more contemporary speech as “Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put devious speech far from you.”

To me, this word seems hard to pronounce. If I don’t concentrate, I’ll say it as something like “frerd.” Must be something about the “W” being stuck between “R” and “R” that brings out my inner Elmer Fudd. I wonder if froward fell out of use because it was just hard to say and easy to confuse in its written form with forward?

And finally, because I couldn’t resist:

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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