Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Word of the day: thitherto

Yes, it’s a real word. And it means exactly what logic would suggest it does.

I was just editing an article that mentioned a book someone published in the 1970s, and it said that the author “had hitherto been regarded as an expert”. Clearly wrong, given the tense, but I didn’t know what was right. It struck me that “thitherto” would be ideal, but surely that couldn’t be a real word! I was about to rephrase the whole thing when I decided I might as well look it up, just on the offchance.

Moral of the story: follow your instincts.

(Next week: the tragic tale of the incompetent seductress who went around sporting a go-thither look.)


Matt M said...

Hmmm... I hate to nitpick, but I thought one of the aims of editing was to improve clarity? Isn't "thitherto"* more likely to send the reader scurrying off for a dictionary just to make sure the word really exists?

*I will, of course, still be looking for any opportunity to use the word in everyday conversation.

Tom Freeman said...

You're right, and normally I would have just pocketed my wordy glee and then put "up to that point" or something. (The OED conceded that it's "now rare".) But the readers for this will be a bunch of academics - and historians to boot - most of whom make up words anyway when it suits them, so I think I can stretch them a bit here!

Tom said...

I'd usually go with 'theretofore' instead. Slightly - just slightly - less silly looking on the page.

Chris said...

'Clearly wrong, given the tense'

Sorry, but unless the fuller context makes this clearer - huh?

Hitherto just means Up to this time, until now, as yet. But 'this time' doesn't refer to the time of writing the article you're editing - it means the time of the fact that changes people's regard of the person as an expert. Do you think you couldn't have replaced it with 'had, up to this time, been regarded as an expert' and would have needed to write 'had, up to that time, ...'?

Either way, I really don't envy you.

Andrew said...

This post set off some kind of memetic chain reaction in my head. Thithero, hitherto, come-thither, go-hither etc. have been bouncing around my brain all day. Argh. Still - I'm unlikely to forget the word.

Tom Freeman said...

Well, I just came within a whisker of letting an "independant" go to press. Clearly my editorial opinion is worthless. And clearly I need about 20 hours of sleep.