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Word engineers

Posted by Steve E on September 02, 2005

In Reply to: Word engineers posted by Bob on September 02, 2005

: : : : : Why do people want to say "Forever and a day"? Forever is already eternal, and why "and a day"?

: : : : Just a wild guess here, but probably because they want to express something to such a degree that it would be one day more than eternity.

: : : : "I will love you forever and a day" to express the endless degree of one's love.

: : : : "He is so slow, it will take him forever and a day" to express the degree of how slow he is.

: : : That extra day is added for emphasis. You might object on the same grounds to sentencing a defendant to several consecutive life terms, but it happens.

: : agree that the extra day is just for emphasis. But the phrase "a year and a day" crops up a lot in old English law, where leases and apprenticeships were made for "a year and a day", I think that "and a day" may have been added to avoid any suggestion that the lease or whatever came to an end in 364 days rather than 365. (Have we any legal historians on this board who could confirm?) The phrase is also used in traditional stories (as where an enchantment or whatever lasts for "a year and a day"). So I'm sure that's where the idea of "forever and a day" came from.

: The question of real interest to me is: can a person who asks this question understand the answer? That is to say, "forever is already eternal..." is quite literally true, and clinical, and bloodless, and well, prosaic. "Forever and a day" is a poetic expression that a prosaic person can't grasp; it's not functionally part of the engineering of the sentence. It's an extra cogwheel nailed onto the exterior of the steam engine. Dull would he be of soul who could reject such a tiny flight of fancy. Perhaps more satisfying to the prosaic would be "I will love you until August 17th at 10 am."

Bob--Wonderful! The answer to the question seemed abundantly clear to me--I guess I am more poetic than prosaic.