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"against the day"

Posted by Smokey Stover on November 23, 2006

In Reply to: "Against the day" posted by pamela on November 22, 2006

: : Anyone have knowledge of the origin of the phrase, "against the day" which of course makes sensein context but seems an odd usage nontheless. This is the title of the new Thomas Pynchon novel and I have seen it used in other novels and am curious because it appears to have a life of its own.

: The phrase was used in A Funeral Elegy for Master William Peter by Shakespear . (

: 375 But O far be it, our unholy lips
: Should so profane the deity above
: As thereby to ordain revenging whips
: Against the day of Judgment and of Love.

: Pamela

I imagine that the specific explanation for Pynchon's title lies early in the work. Or perhaps not. The book is too new and too long for me to have read it. But "against the day" has been a well-known phrase throughout my short (geologically speaking) lifetime, as in, "I'd been saving redeemable coupons all those years against the day they would actually offer something I could use, so I could then redeem them. Then they stopped offering green stamps. Hell's bells!" Or "She saved her nickels and dimes and even dollars in a secret location against the day she dared leave this brute." I was surprised not to find the exact locution in the OED (perhaps I looked in the wrong place), but the general usage is there, all right, as for example:

" 19. esp. with some idea of preparation: In view of; in anticipation of, in preparation for, in time for.
c1350 St. Jerome's 15 Tokens 92 at God wil Aʒeins domesdai. c1425 Seven Sages 1488 How scho myght agayens nyght Fonden a tale al newe. 1577-87 HARRISON Eng. I. II. v. 121 This furniture is to be provided against his installation. 1642 FULLER Holy & Prof. St. V. xviii. 431 The moist dropping of stone walls against rainy weather. 1659 BURTON Diary IV. 349 To shorten the business against Thursday. 1697 LOCKE Lett. 194 Some additions to my book against the next edition. 1741 RICHARDSON Pamela I. 131 If I chose to order any new clothes against my marriage. 1758 WESLEY in Wks. 1872 II. 435 Having a Sermon to write against the Assizes at Bedford. 1832 H. MARTINEAU Each & All i. 14 Go to Covent Garden, to see the people dressing it up against sunrise. 1875 EMERSON Lett. & Soc. Aims viii. 194 When the Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon, he had built, against her arrival, a palace. a1884 Mod. He has a few pounds put by against a 'rainy day.'

In case there is an error in transmission: the paraphrase from St. Jerome starts with a "thorn" and also includes a character resembling that used in earlier times with "vi" to produce "videlicet," or "viz." It's not actually a "z".