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Digressions

My space to ramble on about things (ahem! I mean, explain things) that come up as I add content to the site, and perhaps just random musings and commentary. My miscellany, you might say.
Some might call it a blog. I shan't.

To "ramble on" is to speak at too much length about something, so that one's listeners tire. Usually, rambling on would involve losing focus, but certainly not in my case. LOL

Pat's bitmoji of relaxed reflection
. . .

The Twelve Days of Christmas, and the a- prefix on progressive verbs

In one of my calls to action - as we say in today's webspeak - I use the phrase, "Time's a-wasting!" The a- prefix to progressive verbs is thought to be a reduction of either of the prepositions "at" or "on" in Early Middle English. It can only be used if the verb's accent is on the first syllable, and it can be used for present or past progressives.

Do you need to learn this? Absolutely not. Aside from a few idiomatic expressions such as the example I've given, I never use it, nor would speakers of my acquaintance. It persists a bit in America's southern and Appalachian regions, and may express an emphasis. It's not incorrect, it has simply fallen out of use and become a regionalism. You may hear it in old movies and find it in song lyrics. My message is, don't be concerned about it, and interpret any such phrase the same as the normal progressive.

A sweet example of the usage is this Christmas carol. Wikipedia says the earliest version is from London in 1780, and that, "The standard tune now associated with it is derived from a 1909 arrangement of a traditional folk melody by English composer Frederic Austin." The 1780 version of the text is here below. You will hear a number of variations (for example usually you'll hear, "On the (x) day ...", and "gold" may be "golden" for the melody's rhythm) but none are too far off.

The song has twelve cumulative verses. It starts with the first gift only. Each successive verse adds one more gift while enumerating all the preceeding ones in reverse order.

Notice that in this song the a- prefix comes only after a one-syllable noun, so it serves as a useful way to even out the rhythm of the verse. Also, for generations now we would use a hyphen after the a, but apparently this was not done in 1780.

poster for The Twelve Days by Xavier Romero-Frias / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

This charming poster is by Xavier Romero-Frias, used under a Creative Commons license.

A joyous rendition of this much-loved song:

Do practice singing along!

The first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me a partridge in a pear tree.
The second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
The third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

The verses continue with:

4 Colly birds
5 Gold rings
6 Geese a laying
7 Swans a swimming
8 Maids a milking
9 Drummers drumming
10 Pipers piping
11 Ladies dancing
12 Lords a leaping

(1780). Mirth without Mischief. London: Printed by J. Davenport, George's Court, for C. Sheppard, no. 8, Aylesbury Street, Clerkenwell. pp. 5–16.

Colly: old word used in England to mean coal-black. In recent times people usually say "calling birds", likely because "colly" is no longer widely understood.

Language-related comments are always welcome!