Etymology Linguistics Spelling Usage

‘Here’ to ‘herein’ to ‘hereinafter’

Q: I recently started a list of words that seem to be conglomerates of smaller words (e.g., albeit, heretofore, nonetheless, and whatsoever). I’m attaching the list. I’ve always liked this kind of word, albeit under the level of my consciousness. Can you tell me anything about them, as a group?

A: What a great list! These are compound words, made up of two or three smaller ones. Many of these got their start in Middle English, though some weren’t written as one word until a later period.

Compounds aren’t unusual in English. In fact, compounding is an important way that English forms new words, like “plainclothesman” and “counterclockwise” (both triple compounds).

Most of the ones on your list, like “aforementioned” and “heretofore,” are the kind we associate with the language of legislative acts, contracts, wills, and other legal documents. And not everybody likes them.

A recent New York Times article about the economist Alfred E. Kahn, who died in December, quoted him on this very subject. Kahn, a devotee of plain English, once wrote this in a memo to the lawyers and economists on his staff:

“Every time you’re tempted to use ‘herein’ or ‘hereinabout’ or ‘hereinunder’ or, similarly, ‘therein,’ ‘thereinabove’ or ‘thereinunder,’ and the corresponding variants, try ‘here’ or ‘there’ or ‘above’ or ‘below,’ and see if it doesn’t make just as much sense.”

Here (we won’t say “hereinunder”) is a look at some of the words in your collection, plus a few more. We’ll stick with the triple compounds.

“albeit” and the archaic “howbeit”: These were originally three-word phrases, “all be it” (circa 1385) and “how be it’ (1398). The first means something like “even though it be that” or “although.” The second means “however it may be” or “be that as it may.”

“inasmuch”: When it originated (before 1300), this was three separate words, “in as much.” But it’s been written as one word for most of its history. It’s generally followed by “as.” The phrase “inasmuch as” means “in view of the fact that” or “to the extent that” or “because.”

“insofar”: This was originally three words, “in so far” (1596), and it’s also followed by “as.” The meaning of “insofar as” is “to such an extent that” or “in such measure or degree as.”

“hereinafter”: This compound (1590) means “after this point in the document” or “hereafter.” The words “hereinbefore” (1687) and “hereinabove” (1768-74) are its cousins.

“heretofore”: This one (c. 1350) means “before this time” or “formerly.” It includes the obsolete compound “tofore” (before 900), which once meant “to the front of” or “before.”

“nevertheless”: This familiar combination dates from before 1382 and means “despite that” or “all the same” or “nonetheless” (see below).  And yes, it once had an opposite number, “neverthemore,” an obsolete word that meant “not at all” or “definitely not.”

“nonetheless”: This one dates from 1533 and means the same as “nevertheless.” It was preceded by earlier forms that combined “no” + “the” + “less” or “nought” + “the” + “less” and were written as “natheless,” “netheless,” “noutheless,” and so on.

“notwithstanding”: This isn’t really a triple compound, because the “with” of “withstand” is technically a verbal prefix instead of a word. But who cares? It dates back to before 1400 and means “in spite of” or “all the same.” The similar “noughtwithstanding” is even earlier, but it didn’t last.

“whatsoever”: This combination (c. 1250) means the same as “whatever.” Then why the “so”? Because “whatsoever” incorporates an earlier, archaic compound, “whatso” (“what” + “so”), which also meant “whatever,” and which survived in poetic usage into the early 20th century. (Example: “Despatches, sermons,—whatso goes / Into their brain comes out as prose,” from a 19th-century poem by the  pseudonymous Sylvanus Urban.)

“wherewithal”: This one (1535) combines “where” with an archaic compound, “withal” (“with” + “all”), which once meant “in addition” or “along with the rest” or “moreover.” Today the triple compound “wherewithal” is a noun for “necessary means,” as in “He didn’t have the wherewithal to pay his rent.”

Having written the aforementioned, we will hereinafter sign off.

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