New use of "unless"?

Gregory {Greg} Downing gd2 at IS2.NYU.EDU
Tue Jan 23 16:25:53 UTC 2001

At 11:10 AM 1/23/2001 -0500, Beverly Olson Flanigan wrote:
>[re "unlest"]: I would assume the /t/ is added as liaison with the following
>vowel, as in "acrosst", "oncet", "twicet," etc.--common in much of the Midland.
>But I suppose "lest" alone (re: Salovesh) is derived from "unless" too,
>which suggests the usage of both has a long history.

OED2 traces "lest" to an OE phrase that contains the ancestor of "less," and
traces "unless" to a ME phrase containing "less" that looks as if it
collapsed into a single word during the 15th century. So, "lest" and
"unless" are, strictly speaking, cousins rather than parent/child.

OED2 has entries for "unlest" and "unleast." All citations seems to be from
the 16th century, so the phenomenon of speakers fusing unless/unle(a)st/lest
is probably not new, and may well have persisted for centuries in the spoken
rather than the formal written language.

Greg Downing, at greg.downing at or gd2 at

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