Fwd: "nary a "

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon May 28 15:17:45 UTC 2007

an exchange with a reader of the Language Log, about my posting:

  AZ, 5/27/07: Before nary an overnegation could be uttered:

Begin forwarded message:

> From: "Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at csli.stanford.edu>
> Date: May 28, 2007 8:06:35 AM PDT
> Subject: Re: "nary a "
> On May 27, 2007, at 9:00 PM, Homer Mershon wrote:
>> My dialect includes a positive form of this as "ary" or "ary a".
>> In that usage, I would accept either "before ary a punch was ..."
>> or "before ary punch was ..."  I think a correct translation might
>> be "before even a single punch was ... " or "before any punch at
>> all was ..."
> fascinating.  the historical development is pretty clear.  "nary"
> is from "ne'er a", a shortened version of "never a".  the OED's
> earliest cites (18th century) have the syntax of "not a" or "not a
> single": "nary red cent", "nary sound", "nary one".
> around the mid-19th century, "nary" picks up a following "a(n)",
> presumably because people no longer see it as analyzable, but just
> as a variant -- the OED labels it as chiefly U.S. (regional and
> colloquial), English regional (south-western), and Irish English --
> of "not", so "nary a" parallels "not a": "nary a quarrel", "nary a
> citizen", "nary a one".
> your positive version looks like a reanalysis of "nary" as "n
> +ary".  it's not in the OED.  but it seems to have been around for
> a while:  from Chapter X ("A Thwarted Design") of _Deadwood Dick's
> Doom; or, Calamity Jane's Last Adventure_, on a Dime Novels and
> Penny Dreadfuls site,
> http://www-sul.stanford.edu/depts/dp/pennies/texts/189.html
>   Bear et in mind ever hence, beauties benign, thet a man who kin
> juggle down a quarto' Death Notch petroleum wi'out ary a bumblebee
> in et, is an honest man.
> Deadwood Dick's Doom; or, Calamity Jane's Last Adventure, a Tale of
> Death Notch
> Edward L. Wheeler
> (Deadwood Dick Library, Vol. 3, No. 39)
> New York: [Beadle and Adams], [1899?]
> -----
> note that although your variant is "positive", it seems to be a
> negative polarity item.

as i say, not in the OED (and hard to search for via google).  i'm
away from my DARE -- does it have an entry for "ary"?  anyone have
any information on this item?


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