Saturday, July 18, 2009

Blind, Deaf, & Hawed

Bob from East Jordan asked about a saying that his father used to apply to him and his siblings: “You boys are blind, deaf, and haud.” Bob wasn’t sure about the spelling of the last word, but it sounded like hawed.

I went to the Oxford English Dictionary to see what I could find. I discovered haw-2, which showed up around the year 1000. It meant a thing of no value. That seemed like a possibility.

There was also the word haught, showing up in 1430. It was related to haughty, and meant high in one’s own estimation, a case of pride going before the fall. While it didn’t violate the original context, it just didn’t seem likely.

Then there was hauch, a medical word that appeared around 1513. It referred to a panting sound, a hitch in respiration as the result of exertion, which didn’t seem to fit at all. In addition, the pronunciation didn’t match.

The idea of pronunciation caught my attention. What if Bob’s father had pronounced the word in a clipped fashion or his sons had misheard it? That released a memory blip; I realized that I had heard the phrase before, but with a difference. The last word was actually halt, and from 700 onwards, it meant lame, crippled, and limping.

I had encountered it in biblical accounts, so I sought out the word using a concordance. Here are a few instances from the King James Version.

Mark 9:
45 And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
46 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Luke 14:
16 Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:
17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.
18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.
19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.
20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.
21 So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.

John 5:
2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

The word seems to have gone out of fashion somewhere in the mid 19th century, but the KJV kept it alive for many people.

SIDEBAR: "The Adventure of the Lame and the Halt" from Leslie's Monthly

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

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