“Loath” and “Loathe”

By Maeve Maddox

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Paul Russell writes:

I am loath to admit, or maybe loathe to admit, that I always thought the correct expression was “loathed to admit”

But having Googled, I find the “loath” version scores about 1.1m pages,”loathe” around 55,000 with “loathed” in a lowly last place at 32,000.

Please can you tell me which is correct, although I suspect Google has already answered my question.

The forms loath, loathe, and loathed are not interchangeable.

The word loath is an adjective. It’s from Old English lað which meant “hostile, repulsive.” It’s related to German Leid (sorrow) and French laid (ugly). Its most frequent modern usage is in the expression “to be loath to do something,” in which the meaning is not much stronger than “reluctant.” Ex. I am loath to admit my mistake.

In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath tells the story of the “loathly lady.” A young man must choose between an ugly (loathly) bride who will be faithful, and a beautiful one who will not be.

The word loathe is a verb. It’s from Old English laðian which had the meaning “to hate, to be disgusted with.” The modern meaning is about the same: “to feel strong aversion for; have extreme disgust at.” The form loathed is the participle form. Ex. The child loathed the cruel teacher.

A variant spelling of the adjective loath is loth. The th in the adjective has the unvoiced sound heard in thin.

The verb loathe (despite the tutor’s note at Answers.com) has a different pronunciation. The th in loathe has the voiced sound heard in this. The silent final e is what signals the difference in pronunciation.

In looking for examples on the web I came across the form “loather.”

The Kingdom of Loathers is an online game.

The Loathers is a music group.

A blogger criticizing the ACLU indicated that the letters must stand for American Christian Loathers Union.

I couldn’t find any indication of how the word “loather” in these examples is pronounced.

If the “loather” is so called because of feelings of reluctance, I should think that the pronunciation is [lōth-ər] with unvoiced th.

If the “loather” is so called because of feelings of intense dislike of something (as is presumably the case in the ACLU reference), then it would be pronounced with a voiced th: [lōTH-ər].

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4 Responses to ““Loath” and “Loathe””

  • Iapetus999

    I enjoy reading blogs in my loathers.

  • Malcolm

    While “loathed” is the participle of “loathe,” in the example you provide it is being used as the preterit, not as a participle.

  • Andy

    I am not loath to admit that I had no idea there was a difference in pronounciation in the “th” sounds in “loath” and “loathe”. THanks.

  • nitpicker

    The game is actually called “Kingdom of Loathing”.

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