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Re: Make way for the king

Posted by Graham Cambray on February 15, 2009 at 22:12

In Reply to: Re: Make way for the king posted by Smoke;y Stover on February 15, 2009 at 19:59:

: : : : : : : : : I'm looking for the origin of the phrase "Make way for the king" - any feedback would be much appreciated!

: : : : : : : : Well, one of the meanings of "way" is "Opportunity for passage or advance: freedom from obstruction", and this is the meaning it has in the constructions "give way" and "make way". Obviously kings, emperors, presidents and people being rushed to hospital for lifesaving surgery expect other mortals to get out of their way, and if you don't their minions are likely to shout at you to *make* way. (VSD)

: : : : : : : --------------

: : : : : : : I can point you to some lines by Euripides which takes it back 2400 years:
: : : : : : : At the branching road of Phokis
: : : : : : : The driver of Laius commanded my son:
: : : : : : : "Out of the road, Stranger! Make way for the King!"
: : : : : : : But he walked on without a word, silent in his pride.

: : : : : : : See link.

: : : : : : : But, as Victoria implies, I expect people have been shouting it as long as there have been kings. If topical news is to be believed, maybe the Neanderthals shouted it. (GC)

: : : : : : Euripides was no doubt alive some 2400 years ago, but David Travis was not, and "make way" are his words. Those of Euripides were in Greek. Unless I'm mistaken, which I often am, the question was about the actual words, not about the concept. So if some Neanderthals shouted it, they probably did not do so in English.

: : : : : : In that language, that is, English, the words which were eventually spelled "make way" appeared no later than the 13th century, and not just for the benefit of kings. However, shouting out "make way for ....." eventually led to the elliptical shout, "way, way!" The first use of "way, way" cited by the OED is in Andrew Balfour's 1898 novel, "To Arms."
: : : : : : SS

: : : : : -----------

: : : : : Absolutely right, Euripides didn't write in English, and it hadn't really occurred to me that anyone would thing I was saying that he did - it's just that people seem to have been saying this sort of thing for a while now, and a meaningful "First Use" may consequently be a bit hard to find. As for the Neanderthal thing, just a reference to yesterday's pronouncement that they probably had the power of speech - a (failed?) attempt at humour. But I'm not alone in straying from the "straight and narrow", am I? I found your recent discussion of "cat on a hot tin roof" (under the topic "Up the creek without a paddle") interesting and informative, even if it wasn't exactly what the questioner was asking about. And Gary Martin has a whole section of this site dedicated to biblical phrases - not written in English either. Some of it in Greek (unless I'm mistaken). Oh well. Please accept my apologies if I've ruffled your feathers. (GC)

: : : : Graham mentioned possible ruffled feathers. If he was referring to me, I have to say, Graham, forget it! My feathers are never ruffled, I'm glad to hear that Euripides had the same idea, and I don't think the Neanderthal feint was stupid or out of place. We may not agree on what the questioner was asking, but that's the questioner's fault, not ours.

: : : : Have you heard this one? Fellow goes into a Greek tailor's shop. He hands the tailor a pair of pants. The tailor says, "Euripides?" The guy says, "Yeah. Eumenides?"

: : : : SS

: : : Consider that joke stolen, SS. I have used it already, and I only saw it a couple of minutes ago.

: : : DFG

: : -------

: : Thank you for the joke, SS, and the friendly words - especially the latter. For our questioner, do you have a reference for the 13th century thing? (GC)

: David, yes, I stole the joke, but not knowingly from you. I think it may be about 2400 years old. It seems that long ago that I first heard it.
: (Just kidding. It was really only about 40 years ago.)

: Graham, I'm sometimes reluctant to try to quote very early passages cited by the Oxford English Dictionary. For one thin g, they (the OED) don't like it much, and for another they use special characters not easily duplicated. But here are the first two citations:

: [s.v. way] "25. make way. . . .
: c1200 Trin. Coll. Hom. 91 Đo Þe Þe weie makeden biforen him bien folkes lorÞeawes. c1330 R. BRUNNE Chron. Wace (Rolls) 1555 Đorow Þe host he made hem [? read hym] weye. On ilk a side he dide Þem deye."

: As you can see, the meaning seems to have remained unchanged over the centuries. The expression is probably older, but unattested in any of the sources consulted by the OED. The Old English word for "way" is usually spelled "weġ," in which ġ represents the Old English guttural fricative. There is a more realistic character available that I haven't been able to reproduce. (Aren't you sorry you asked?)
: SS

You're right, it's not very friendly. I did try to learn early English some years ago, but eventually gave it up through lack of aptitude (and the fact that the different dialects were almost like different languages). But I suspect this is the best the questioner is ever going to get. (GC).