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and it has been supposed to have something to do with the verb so look. In this sense it has been used in the New Testament to render the Greek ióow that is, behold / But the interjection la was quite independent of another Saxon exclamation, viz. loc, which may with more probability be associated with locian = to look.
The fact seems to be that the modern lo represents both the Saxon interjections la and loc, and that this is one among many instances where two Saxon words have been merged into a single English one.
‘Lo, how they feignen chalk for chese.'
The la of Saxon times has none of the indicatory or pointing force which lo now has, and which fits it to go so naturally with an adverb of locality, as “Lo here,' or ‘Lo there’; or
‘Lol where the stripling, wrapt in wonder, roves.’
But while lo became the literary form of the word, la has still continued to exist more obscurely, at least down to a recent date, even if it be not still in use. La may be called the feminine form of lo. In novels of the close of last century and the beginning of this, we see la occurring for the most part as a trivial exclamation by the female characters.
In Miss Edgeworth's tale of The Good French Governess, a silly affected boarding-school miss says la repeatedly:—
“Lal” said Miss Fanshaw, “we had no such book as this at Suxberry House.”
Miss Fanshaw, to shew how well she could walk, crossed the room, and took up one of the books.
“Alison upon Taste—that's a pretty book, I daresay—but la what's this, Miss Isabella 2 A Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments—dear me ! that must be a curious performance—by a smith ! a common Smith !”.'
And in The Election : a Comedy, by Joanna Baillie (1798), Act ii. Sc. 1, Charlotte thus soliloquises:—
“Charlotte. La, how I should like to be a queen, and stand in my robes, and have all the people introduced to me!’
And when Charles compares her cheeks to the ‘pretty delicate damask rose, she exclaims: “La, now you are flattering me.’
And to shew that this trivial little interjection is traceable back to early times, and that it is one with the old Saxon la, we may cite the authority of Shakspeare in the mid interval, who, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, puts this exclamation into the mouths of Master Slender first, and of Mistress Quickly afterwards.
‘Slen. Mistris Anne: your selfe shall goe first.
Anne. Not I sir, pray you keepe on. Slen. Truely, I will not goe first: truely la ; I will not doe you that wrong.
Anne. I pray you Sir.
Here the interjection seems to retain somewhat of its old ceremonial significance: but when, in the ensuing scene, Mistress Quickly says, “This is all indeede—la : but ile nere put my finger in the fire, and neede not,’ there is nothing in it but the merest expletive.
Wa has a history much like that of la. It has changed its form in modern English to wo. ‘Wo,' in the New Testament, as Rev. viii. 13, stands for the Greek interjection oùai and the Latin va. In the same way it is used in many passages in which the interjectional character is distinct. This word must be distinguished from woe, which is a substantive. For instance, in the phrase ‘weal and woe.' And in such scriptures as Prov. xxiii. 29: ‘Who hath woe P who hath sorrow P’
The fact is, that there were here absorbed two distinct old words, namely, the interjection wa and the substantive woh (genitive woges), which means depravity, wickedness, misery. And it would be convenient to observe the distinction, which still is practically valid, by a distinct orthography, writing the interjection wo, and the substantive woe. This interjection was compounded with the previous one into the form wala or walawa—an exclamation which is several times found in Chaucer, and which, before it disappeared, was modified into the feebler form of wellaway. A degenerate variety of this form was well-a-day. Woeful cries have a certain disposition to implicate the present time, as in woe worth the day / There was yet another compound interjection made with la by prefixing the interjection ea. Hence the Saxon compound eala. This occurs often in the Saxon Gospels as a mere sign of the vocative; for example, ‘Eala pu wif, mycel ys pin geleasa’ (O woman, great is thy faith), Matt. xv. 28. “Eala faeder Abraham, gemiltsa me’ (Father Abraham, pity me), Luke xvi. 24. This eala may be regarded as the stock on which the French helas was grafted, and from the conjunction with which sprung the modern alas, which appears in English of the thirteenth century, as in Robert of Gloucester, 4.198: ‘Alas! alas ! }ou wrecche mon, wuch mysaventure hap pe ybrogt in to bys stede.” (Alas! alas ! thou wretched man, what misadventure hath brought thee into this place 2) And in Chaucer it is a frequent interjection. In a pathetic passage of the Knight's Tale it is used repeatedly.
“Allas the wo, allas the peynes stronge,
Alack seems to be the more genuine representation of eala, which, escaping the influence of hálas, drew after it (or preserved rather?) the final guttural so congenial to the interjection. Thus the modern alack suggests a Saxon or Anglian form ealah. This interjection has rather a trivial use in the south of England, and we do not find it used with a dignity equal to that of alas, until by Sir Walter Scott the language of Scotland was brought into one literature with our own. Jeanie Deans cries out before the tribunal at the most painful crisis of the trial: ‘Alack a-day ! she never told me.' Still, the word is on the whole associated mainly with trivial occasions, and in this connection of ideas it has engendered the adjective lackadaysical, to characterise a person who flies into ecstasies too readily.
Pooh seems connected with the French exclamation of physical disgust: Pouah, quelle insection / But our pooh expresses an analogous moral sentiment: “Pooh pooh! it’s all stuff and nonsense.’
Psha expresses contempt. “Doubt is always crying psha and sneering.’—Thackeray, Humourists, p. 69.
Heigh ho. Some interjections have so vague, so filmy a meaning, that it would take a great many words to interpret what their meaning is. They seem as fitted to be the echo of one thought or feeling as another; or even to be no more than a mere melodious continuation of the rhythm:—
‘How pleasant it is to have money, beigh bo!
This will suffice to exhibit the nature of the first class of interjections;–those which stand nearest to nature and farthest from art; those which owe least to conventionality and most to genuine emotion; those which are least capable of orthographic expression and most dependent upon oral
modulation. It is to this class of interjections especially that the following quotation is applicable.
“The dominion of speech is erected upon the downfall of interjections: without the artful contrivances of language, mankind would have had nothing but interjections with which to communicate orally any of their feelings. The neighing of a horse, the lowing of a cow, the barking of a dog, the purring of a cat, sneezing, coughing, groaning, shrieking, and every other involuntary convulsion with oral sound, have almost as good a title to be called parts of speech, as interjections have. Voluntary interjections are only employed when the suddenness and vehemence of some affection or passion returns men to their natural state, and makes them for a moment forget the use of speech; or when from some circumstance the shortness of time will not permit them to exercise it.”—Horne Tooke,
Diversions of Purley, p. 32. The interjections which we have been considering so far, may be called the spontaneous or primitive interjections, and they are such as have no basis in grammatical forms. But we now pass on to the other group, which may be called the artificial or secondary interjections; a group which, though extra-grammatical no less than the former, in the sense that they do not enter into any grammatical construction, are yet founded upon grammatical words. Verbs, nouns, participles, adjectives, have by use lost their grammatical character, and have lapsed into the state of interjections. In the nascency of geological ideas, a controversy flourished upon this question:—Whether fossils in the semblance of animal organisms were things that once had lived, or whether they were only lapides sui generis, a strange sort of stones? Not very unlike is the question that might be raised concerning the interjections we are now to consider. Are they parts of organised speech, or are they interjections that form a class by themselves? They bear internal marks of organism, but their organs have ceased to be functional. We must be content to play the part of those wise men who pronounced the fossils to be but stones, and we must treat these words as mere interjectional missiles.