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Froward

It’s not a mistake for forward, though a typing error in an e-mail brought it to mind.

The first part of this archaic word could at one time stand alone. Fro is based on Old Norse frá, from which we also get from. We now know it only in to and fro, which is a scaled-down form of the Middle English come toward and go froward.

Froward means leading away. Old English also had fromward in the same sense, though they later diverged. Fromward retained its literal sense of direction — until it died out in the eighteenth century — whilst froward moved to the metaphorical.

By the fourteenth century, froward was attached in particular to a person who figuratively moved away from others by doing the opposite of what was asked of them or what other people thought reasonable. A froward person was hard to deal with — obstinate, peevish, perverse or childish. Indeed, a difficult child was often said to be froward:

Human Life is, at the greatest and the best, but like a froward Child, that must be play’d with and humour’d a little to keep it quiet till it falls asleep.

An Essay on Poetry by Sir William Temple, 1690.

That sense remained until froward slipped out of daily use in the latter part of the nineteenth century. If you read it today in a newspaper it’s either in a quotation from an old work or — to return to my starting point — a misprint for forward.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 24 Mar. 2012

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 24 March 2012.