Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In the Offing

While I was checking the weather on The Weather Channel the other day, I heard a forecaster say, “There are many storms in the offing.” I knew that in the offing means imminent, but I realized that I didn’t know where it came from.

It has a nautical origin. The OED defines offing as “the part of the visible sea at a distance from the shore beyond anchorages or inshore navigational dangers.” It is just beyond rocks, shoals, and other hazards, but not so far as to be lost on the horizon. The first example shows up in 1600.

The base was the adverb off, used nautically to mean away from land or from the vessel. The -ing is a suffix used to form a noun.

In extended and figurative use it means nearby, at hand, imminent, likely to happen in the near future. The word in this sense appeared in 1779, all because a ship in the offing was at a visible distance and would soon land.

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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