-Ought words

Have you ever noticed how so many English past tenses end with -ought or -aught?

bought buy
brought bring
caught catch
distraught distract
fought fight
fraught freight
might may
sought seek
taught teach
thought think
wrought work, wreak

(Consider also that something can be stretched until it is straight, tightened until it is taut.)

The other day I was reading Thomas EdwardsThe Canons of Criticism (1758) — a mildly entertaining but much too long attack on William Warburton’s editions of Pope and Shakespeare — and came across a new entry for my table. Hamlet, Act III, Scene I:

Madam, it so fell out, that certain players
We o’er-raught on the way: of these we told him;
And there did seem in him a kind of joy
To hear of it […]

Edwards describes over-raught as (not a corruption of over-rode but) “the regular past tense of over-reach.” Compare Spenser’s Faerie Queene:

A monstrous beast ybred in filthy fen
He chose, which he had kept long time in darksome den […]
His tayle was stretched out in wondrous length,
That to the house of heauenly gods it raught,
And with extorted pow’r and borrow’d strength,
The euer-burning lamps from thence it brought,
And prowdly threw to ground, as things of nought.

Wiktionary further tells me that raught or rought can also be the past tense of reck (as in reckon, reckless). Reck and reach derive from different Proto-Indo-European roots, but have converged to be more or less synonymous with grasp (pace Robert Browning).

In writing this post, I learned that hight (more or less synonymous with yclept) is the present perfect of hote: “I am hight Lancelot” only because people tend to hote me Lancelot, you know.

And then there’s this, from Punchinello magazine 2:27 (October 1870), bylined “Amos Keeter” (get it?):

Sally Salter, she was a young teacher, who taught,
And her friend, Charley Church, was a preacher, who praught;
Though his enemies called him a screecher, who scraught.

His heart, when he saw her, kept sinking, and sunk,
And his eye, meeting hers, began winking, and wunk;
While she, in her turn, fell to thinking, and thunk.

He hastened to woo her, and sweetly he wooed,
For his love grew until to a mountain it grewed,
And what he was longing to do, then he doed.

In secret he wanted to speak, and he spoke,
To seek with his lips what his heart long had soke;
So he managed to let the truth leak, and it loke.

He asked her to ride to the church, and they rode;
They so sweetly did glide, that they both thought they glode,
And they came to the place to be tied, and were tode.

Then homeward he said let us drive, and they drove,
And soon as they wished to arrive, they arrove;
For whatever he couldn’t contrive, she controve.

The kiss he was dying to steal, then he stole,
At the feet where he wanted to kneel, there he knole,
And he said, “I feel better than ever I fole.”

So they to each other kept clinging, and clung,
While Time his swift circuit was winging, and wung;
And this was the thing he was bringing, and brung:

The man Sally wanted to catch, and had caught
That she wanted from others to snatch, and had snaught
Was the one that she now liked to scratch; and she scraught.

And Charley’s warm love began freezing, and froze,
While he took to teasing, and cruëlly toze
The girl he had wished to be squeezing, and squoze.

“Wretch!” he cried when she threatened to leave him, and left,
“How could you deceive me, as you have deceft?”
And she answered, “I promised to cleave — and I’ve cleft!”

Posted 2023-02-20