thraward

Language is not ballistic – it’s not something that was thrown with a set trajectory and held a steady course until it hit the present. It is not something that even always moves forward. It is certainly not something frozen. It is sometimes raw, sometimes thawed, sometimes cooked, always decaying and growing at the same time. It is perverse, willful, refractory, twisted, froward. It is thraward.

Froward is not a typo for forward. It’s a word you may have seen in Shakespeare. It means inclined to go against what is normal, reasonable, or expected. You know to and fro? The fro is another form of from and is opposite to to. If something will not move toward, if it is deliberately untoward, it is froward.

But thraward? Well. In the beginning (or, well, not the beginning, but as long ago as we have any record of) there was a word thraw – actually a verbal root þraw, but we’ve long since lost that nice þ letter and replaced it with the messier th, and we’ve dropped most of the verbal inflectional endings too. This word thraw meant ‘twist’ or ‘turn’. You still see it in throw a pot or throw your back. You also see it in throw meaning ‘toss, hurl’, except that now it doesn’t mean ‘twist’; it’s gotten its new twist probably from the twisting the body does when throwing an object. The act of what we call throwing used to be named with the word weorpan (oh, that w was another letter, too, derived from a rune, but that’s a whole other story again). That word comes down to us as modern warp, which now has more to do with twisting than with tossing.

Anyway, froward – or its alternative version fraward – was turned into thraward by some speakers, particularly in Scotland. (It is pronounced with the same a as in warp.) It turned away, turned astray, twisted, was thrown off course, got warped, whatever you will. But then so did throw and warp. They did not turn back; they did not push against time. They simply spiralled, turned athwart. Thraward thus seems a better word for language than froward. Especially since it’s evidence itself of such perversity.

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