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Thread: A-fishing

  1. #1
    DutchDude is offline Newbie
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    Question A-fishing

    Hi everyone. I am currently reading Thoreau's Walden. Not at all easy to read, especially for a Dutchman, haha! Its technical difficulties notwithstanding, I absolutely love it.

    In order to truly understand what Thoreau wrote down, I look up all the words of which I do not know the meaning. Works like a charm, but alas, there is one curiosity I cannot seem to unravel... The prefix 'a-' followed by a verb.

    "These times have been a-changing" or "(...) who often went there a-fishing (...)". "I went there a-chestnutting (...)".

    Is it a mere literary decoration, something along the lines of a dialect, or does it actually alter the meaning of the verb?

    Thank you for your time.

    Cheers
    DutchDude

  2. #2
    SoothingDave is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: A-fishing

    It's more of an old-fashioned type of use. It doesn't really alter the meaning. I could say I was waiting for a train or I was awaiting the train.

  3. #3
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-fishing

    Quote Originally Posted by SoothingDave View Post
    It's more of an old-fashioned type of use. It doesn't really alter the meaning. I could say I was waiting for a train or I was awaiting the train.
    That's slightly different - 'wait' and 'await' are different verbs.

    However, to 'go' or 'be a-verbing' is a consciously old-fashioned use, often in poems or songs. The 'a-' does not change the meaning.

  4. #4
    Ouisch's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-fishing

    "A-comin'", "a-fishin'", etc. is more of a homespun, country-ish, Huckleberry Finn-type way of saying things. There's an interesting discussion of the "proper" use of a- verbs at the beginning of this clip.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: A-fishing

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    That's slightly different - 'wait' and 'await' are different verbs.

    However, to 'go' or 'be a-verbing' is a consciously old-fashioned use, often in poems or songs. The 'a-' does not change the meaning.
    "We'll go no more a-verbing..." (apologies to Lord Byron)
    Last edited by bhaisahab; 30-Jun-2011 at 09:44.

  6. #6
    TheParser is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: A-fishing

    [QUOTE=DutchDude;770064]



    "These times have been a-changing" or "(...) who often went there a-fishing (...)". "I went there a-chestnutting (...)".

    Is it a mere literary decoration, something along the lines of a dialect, or does it actually alter the meaning of the verb?

    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****


    Hello,


    (1) All the teachers have given you and me some really interesting

    answers.

    (2) I assume that you are interested in grammar, so I thought that

    you might like this:

    (a) My books tell me that many (many!!!) years ago, English speakers

    use "a" as a preposition meaning "on." The -ing word after "a" was a

    gerund. So "I went a-fishing" really meant "I went on fishing." As

    time passed, people changed it to "I went fishing." And -- depending

    on which explanation you accept -- "fishing" is now generally analyzed

    as a participle (subjective complement of "I").



    Sincerely,


    James


    P.S. You can still see this use of "a" in such words as:

    asleep
    aboard
    away
    etc.

  7. #7
    emsr2d2's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-fishing

    The last bit of that last post is interesting. I was under the impression that "asleep" came from "at sleep".

  8. #8
    BobK's Avatar
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    Default Re: A-fishing

    Quote Originally Posted by bhaisahab View Post
    "We'll go no more a-verbing..." (apologies to Lord Byron)
    Neat! Nursery rhymes are a good source of more examples:

    'Where are you going, my pretty maid?'/'I'm going a-milking Sir' she said.

    'A frog he [alias Froggy] would a-wooing go...'

    I'm sure there are more.

    b

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    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: A-fishing

    Quote Originally Posted by emsr2d2 View Post
    The last bit of that last post is interesting. I was under the impression that "asleep" came from "at sleep".
    It comes from "on" according to my books too, but it's interesting that not all "a-" words have the same origin. Obviously, words like "amoral" don't, but even "aware" doesn't. "A-" in "aware" is etymologically completely different from "a-" in "asleep".

  10. #10
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    Default Re: A-fishing

    And in The Twelve Days of Christmas:

    "Twelve lords a-leaping..." (although I have a feeling they added the "a-" to fit in with the number of syllables required).

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