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The meaning and origin of the expression: Get a word in edgeways

Get a word in edgeways

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Get a word in edgeways'?

Join a conversation in which another is speaking continually and leaving little opportunity for others.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Get a word in edgeways'?

'A word in edgeways', or as it is sometimes written 'a word in edgewise', is a 19th century expression that was coined in the UK. 'Edgeways/edgewise' just means 'proceeding edge first'. The allusion in the phrase is to edging sideways through a crowd, seeking small gaps in which to proceed through the throng.

Edging forwardThe phrase 'edging forward' exactly describes this inch-by-inch progress. It was first used in the 17th century, typically in nautical contexts and referring to slow advance by means of repeated small tacking movements, as here in Captain John Smith's The generall historie of Virginia, New-England and the Summer Isles 1624:

After many tempests and foule weather, about the foureteenth of March we were in thirteene degrees and an halfe of Northerly latitude, where we descried a ship at hull; it being but a faire gale of wind, we edged towards her to see what she was.

This practice of 'edging' was used with reference to the spoken word by David Abercromby, in Art of Converse, 1683:

Without giving them so much time as to edge in a word.

The first example I have found of 'a word in edgeways' in print is from the one-act play Twelve precisely! or, A night at Dover, 1821. The names of the lead characters, Amelia Wildlove and Sir Ferdinand Frisky, give a sense of the nature of the play:

Sir F. (Aside.) Curse me, if I can get a word in edgeways!

See other Nautical Phrases.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

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