Assy-thingummy: Awkward Uses of the Suffix -Ward

I love reading classic literature in the original spelling.  A few years ago one of my best friends gave me a facsimile edition of the 1611 edition of the King James translation of the Bible.  Knowing that a great deal of Tyndale’s translation ended up in the King James version, for my birthday last year I got myself a copy of the 1526 edition of William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament in the original spelling.  I love them both. For me, reading through these books is a fun way to learn about how our language works as well as gain insight into the history of the Gospel.

The other day I was reading through this copy of Tyndale’s New Testament and I found the following fascinating construction in St. Mark chapter 10:

And he sayde unto them: Whosoever putteth awaye his wyfe, and maryeth another, breaketh wedlocke to herwarde.

In modern English we would generally use the phrase “toward her” or depending on our dialect, “towards her.” But here Tyndale places the -ward suffix, indicating direction, on the pronoun!

This usage seems very awkward to our modern ears.  We do use the -ward suffix regularly.  We say “upward,” “downward, “backward,” and “forward.”  It even sounds perfectly fine to say “She looked heavenward” or “He tumbled earthward.”

Tyndale’s placement of the suffix on the pronoun seems completely foreign to us.  However, a search through the Standard version of King James Bible turns up examples of “to us-ward” and “to youward.”

Ironically, the word “awkward” itself is a fabulous use of the suffix.  The word “awk” means “turned in the opposite direction, backhanded, left handed, sinister, wrong, perverse, singular, distinguished, or clumsy.  So “awkward” means literally “in a backwards or opposite direction,” making it all the more applicable to Tyndale’s use of this fascinating suffix.

Your assignment today is to try some more creative uses of -ward in your everyday speech.  Instead of saying “He shot the ball toward the basket,” why not try “He shot the ball basketward.”  Or even try to resurrect the awkward pronoun use?

[Assy-thingummy is an ongoing blog series about words and language. Browse past Assy-thingummy entries here.]

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