Saturday, December 24, 2011


An Auto-Antonym: Frugal?

Edward FitzGerald, letter to W.A. Wright (March 7, 1869), in The Letters of Edward FitzGerald, edd. Alfred McKinley Terhune and Annabelle Burdick Terhune, Vol. III: 1867-1876 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 130-133 (at 132):
Frugal. Forby notices the Norfolk use of this word (also found in Shakespeare's Merry Wives) in exactly the contrary sense to the modern: sc: lavish, instead of sparing. My nephew Edmund Kerrich was telling me one day an odd instance. His Father's Gamekeeper would say some morning as they went out shooting—"That dog's uncommonly frugal this morning"—meaning, un-costive.
Forby is Robert Forby, The Vocabulary of East Anglia, Vol. I (London: J.B. Nichols and Son, 1830), pp. 124-125:
FRUGAL, adj. the reverse of COSTLY, q. v. This word seems quite distinct from frugal in its current sense. Instances may, indeed, be produced in different languages, of the same word bearing even opposite senses, under different circumstances. The word sacer, in Latin is a very familiar one, sometimes meaning hallowed, sometimes accursed; which sense it bears in any particular passage, must be determined by the context or the occasion. But in each case its etymon is the same. On the contrary, our word, now under consideration, is likely to be of an origin very different from that of the common word, with which it agrees in every letter. "Good woman," quoth the village doctress, "is your child costive?" "Costly! Ma'am, no, quite the contrary, sadly frugal indeed!" So much for modern use. But have we any thing like authority for it in O.E.? We will have recourse to SH. In the Merry Wives of Windsor, Mrs. Page, on receiving Falstaff's love letter, ponders "What unweighed behaviour he could have picked out of her conversation." She presently concludes, "I was, then, too frugal of my mirth. Heaven forgive me!" She could not possibly mean too sparing. It would be nonsense; she must mean too free. The commentators are puzzled, and no wonder. Dr. Johnson says, he once thought "not" ought to be inserted before "too." But it seems his second thoughts were better, for he has not inserted it in the text. The puzzling word frugal stands alone in all the old editions. Now, without presuming to unsettle the derivation of the common word frugal, from the Latin frugi or fruges, or whatever may best please Vossius, or whom else it may concern, we may look at home for that of our frugal and Shakspeare's; and feel pretty confident that we find it, with only a very common change of one vowel. To adapt it to its Saxon origin, and to distinguish from a word of meaning so different, it might be spelled frugle. A.s. frig, liber.
Samuel Johnson's note on Merry Wives of Windsor 2.1.26 (I was then frugal of my mirth, &c.):
By breaking this speech into exclamations, the text may stand; but I once thought it must be read If I was not then frugal of my mirth.
The Oxford English Dictionary doesn't recognize the sense lavish.


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