The Grammarphobia Blog

Laudy, Laudy!

Q: Which is correct: “lord it over” or “laud it over”?

A: The verb here is “lord” (to act in a lordly manner), not “laud” (to praise).

Interestingly, the two usages first appeared in writing in the same work, Piers Plowman (1377), a Middle English allegorical poem by William Langland, according to citations in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Here’s the earliest OED example for the verb “lord” used to mean play the lord or act lordly: “Þe more he … lordeth in londes þe lasse good he deleth.” (“The more he lords in land the less he shares in good.”)

And this is the first OED citation for “laud” used in the sense of singing or speaking praise: “Neyther for loue laude it nouȝt ne lakke it for enuye.” (“Neither laud love naught, nor be troubled by its defects.”)

An early version of “lord it over” (minus the “over”) showed up in The Shepheardes Calender, a 1579 poem by Edmund Spenser: “They reigne and rulen ouer all, and lord it, as they list.”

And here’s an example from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2 (believed written in the early 1590s): “I see them Lording it in London streets.”

The earliest example in the OED for the full expression is from a Nov. 13, 1775, entry in the journal of the novelist Fanny Burney: “He disdains submitting to the Great, or Lording it over the little.”

And here’s a scenic American example from The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, an 1819 collection of essays and short stories by Washington Irving:

“The Kaatskill mountains … are seen … swelling up to a noble height, and lording it over the surrounding country.”

As for the etymology, the verb “lord” is derived from the noun, which was spelled hláford when it showed up in Old English in the ninth century.

The Old English noun was a combination of hlaf (loaf or bread) and weard (keeper). Keeper of the loaf? Here’s how the OED explains the usage:

“In its primary sense the word (which is absent from the other Germanic languages) denotes the head of a household in his relation to the servants and dependents who ‘eat his bread.’ ”

The Old English word for “lady,” in case you’re wondering, was hlæfdige, literally “kneader of the loaf.” And not surprisingly, the Old English word for a servant was hlaf-æta, literally “bread eater.”

As for the title of this post, the interjection “Lordy” (used to  express surprise, dismay, annoyance, and so on) showed up in the US in the mid-19th century, according to the Dictionary of American Regional English.

The earliest example in DARE is from an 1853 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger: “On the sofa … you sank down and bounded up and said Lordy!”

The dictionary’s earliest citation for “Lordy, Lordy” is from Ida Cox’s Lawdy, Lawdy Blues (1923), but we’ve used an Ida Cox recording of the song for this example:

Lord, Lord! Lordy, Lordy, Lord!
You know the man I love treats me like a dog.

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