Jess held up Arlene’s jacket, which had been missing. (See whereabouts.)
“Oh!” said Arlene. “Whereabouts was it?”
“Hanging off a cupboard in the kitchen,” Jess said, “but wherefore I know not.”
“Wherefore… Is that short for what it was there for?” Arlene said playfully. “How did it get there? Nevertheless, I am glad you found it.”
“Oh!” I said, a lightbulb going on in my head. “When you arrived a bit early we conscripted you immediately into helping bring food and beverage out. We took you into the kitchen and you left your jacket there.”
“Oh yes,” Arlene said, “notwithstanding I was the newbie…”
“Especially because you were the newbie,” I said. “And how do you get involved? Not with standing around waiting!”
“Well, carrying trays of food, I felt like a waiter nonetheless,” Arlene said. “Although, as I know from working for a caterer, they also wait who stand and serve.”
Jess was shaking her head in amusement and mild amazement. “Where did you find her, James?”
“Not without standing around,” I said. “Manning the table at frosh week can be a bit dodgy, but nevertheless there’s always the more.”
“And nonetheless there’s one the more, at least this time,” Arlene said. “Those are nice long words that don’t say a whole lot, aren’t they? Nevertheless, nonetheless, nothwithstanding… insofar as they say anything at all, it’s just ‘but’ or ‘athough’.”
“I believe medieval English law clerks got paid by the letter,” I said.
“Well, not by the word,” Jess said. “Otherwise why concatenate so?”
“Are these words really that old?” Arlene said.
“Older, even,” I said. “Especially earlier versions of them such as netheless and natheless, which come from Old English, before the years were in triple digits. The phrases got used adverbially so much that they got treated as single words. We don’t use natheless anymore because we don’t use na anymore, but none and the now-archaic use of never the and never a to mean ‘not’ have taken over.”
“We use natheless nevermore!” Arlene said.
“I think she’s raven,” Jess quipped.
“Just as we use neverthemore nevermore,” I said, “but it was a word in use at one time, to mean ‘definitely not’.”
“And nevermore means ‘no longer’, as does not anymore,” Arlene said, thinking it through, “so they refer to something that stopped. The converse would be something that hasn’t stopped… Still.”
“Yes,” Jess said, “if something hasn’t stopped still, it still hasn’t stopped. I love how we use still for something that keeps moving. And is therefore not still.”
“Well, what would it still be there for?” I said.
“What are these words still there for, if we have shorter ones that serve?” Arlene said. “Nevertheless they are, their length notwithstanding.”
“Ah, multiple morphemes are the morphine of pompous parlance,” I said. “If we wish to be more formal and authoritative, we often drag in confections of multiple Latin and French bits, but these ones are made of Anglo-Saxon bits: never, the, less; not plus withstanding, which is with on standing, which is stand plus ing.”
“Notwithstanding that notwithstanding is probably based on Latin non obstante,” Jess said. “Still, we could say it at even greater length: ‘It is no less the case that it is so’ rather than ‘Nevertheless, it is so,’ or ‘All of the preceding does not present an obstacle’ rather than ‘All of the preceding notwithstanding.’ But you’re right, the longer words are like verbal truncheons, and the longer ones hit harder. However,” she said, dropping into a chair, “if we’re going to keep on this tack, it will not be without sitting down.”
“Notwithstanding that it sounds like fun,” I said, “my system and my spouse will not withstand a lack of sleep. Enough morphemes, more morpheus for me.”
“And now I have my wherewithal,” Arlene said, putting on her jacket, “something to wear with all the words in my head and the winds outside…”
“I hope it will be withstanding the winds,” Jess said. “It’s a bit breezy out there.”
“And in here,” Arlene said, and smiled. “I’ll see you later.” And with that she breezed out.
Thanks to Margaret Gibbs and Elin Cameron for suggesting today’s words.