Monday, September 7, 2015

Forgoing Foregoing

Labor Day is a day when many people are able to forgo labor and enjoy the fruits of their other 364 days of toil. Please notice that they “forgo” labor; they do not “forego” it. Increasingly these two words are confused, usually by people wanting to stick an “e” where it doesn’t belong.

Forgo means to “pass up voluntarily, or do without.” Its root is Middle English forgan (“pass by”), from the prefix for- (“so as to involve prohibition, exclusion, or omission”) and gan  (“to go”). It entered the language sometime before the 12th century.

Forego (with the “e") means to “precede, occur prior to” and it stems from the Anglo Saxon foregan and the German vorgehen, which mean the same thing. It, too, has been in use since before the 12th century. Forego is most often used today in its past participle form, as in the phrase “foregone conclusion”—an answer that is decided before the question is asked.

Sad to say, Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, now accepts forego as a “variant” of forgo. O tempora!  O mores!

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou does not limit the forgoing of labor to one day a year. He hasn’t done a lick of honest work since he took up versifying.

            There was a young man from Taiwan,
            Whose conclusions were always foregone.               
                   His cart, of course,
                   Came before his horse,
            And he got off before he got on.

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