Sideways and Clockwise

By Maeve Maddox

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A reader seeks to understand two uses of the English word wise:

Can you please suggest how can we use the word “wise”. The meaning of “wise” is related to wisdom (Having or prompted by wisdom or discernment).
But some times I use this when some thing needs to be done in a way. for e.g. day wise, company wise, team wise and so on.

Old English had two similarly spelled words derived from the same ProtoGermanic source:

wis: learned, wise
wise: manner, way

It also had two verbs from the same source:

witan: to know
wisian: to direct or to guide

The word wise in the sense of “manner” survived in two suffix forms: -wise and -ways, giving us such words as always, sideways, likewise and otherwise.

Here’s Fowler’s note on these suffixes:

1. The ending -ways or occasionally -way, is often used indifferently with -wise, & is very seldom the only form without one in -wise by its side–perhaps only in always.

2. In a few established words, -wise is alone, esp. clockwise, coastwise, likewise, otherwise, sunwise.

3. In other established words both forms are used, as breadth-, broad-, end-, least-, length-, long-, no-, side-, slant-.

4. In words made for the occasion from nouns, as in Use it clubwise or pokerwise, Go crabwise or frogwise, Worn cloakwise or broochwise or chainwise . . , -wise is now much the commoner.

Fowler was writing about 80 years ago, but his observations remain valid.

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2 Responses to “Sideways and Clockwise”

  • Sally

    How about the misuse of ‘wise’ as in:

    ‘I don’t have anything food-wise to bring to the party’

    ‘What’s it going to do weather-wise?’

    ‘Clothing-wise, I have a lot of old sweaters to contribute.’

    Unfortunately, I could go on, but those are good enough example-wise.

  • mikkiec

    I’m reminded of a phrase from an old movie that a friend just said to me the other day: “That’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.” A clever twist on the usual wording, I think!

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