Without Cease

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One of my illustrations in a recent post,

The wind has blown without cease for three days.

struck some readers as odd.

This from Brad K.

I would have used “ceasing” for the wind, an action verb that conveys more of a sense of continuing over time.

If I’d been writing a descriptive passage, I might have gone with ceasing and not cease. As it was, I was simply reaching for a sentence and the idiom without cease is what sprang to mind.

According to the OED, cease used as a noun is “obsolete,” except

in the still occasional without cease, without end, incessantly. (Cf. F. sans cesse.)

Dictionary.com gives this for cease as a noun:

n.  Cessation; pause: We worked without cease to get the project finished on time.

From Merriam-Webster:

CESSATION — usually used with without I kept an eye upon her without cease — R.L.Stevenson>

I’ll have to concede that the expression without cease is a little old-fashioned, but then my diction tends to be so.

Here are some fairly current examples of the idiom that I found with a little web browsing:

Poverty”, the Pope said, “is a plague against which humanity must fight without cease…” (2005)

Most of the early civilisations had similar stories: images from China three millennia ago tell of a land under the wheeling stars, beyond endless untravelled wastes, where gales blew without cease, and furry creatures, half animal and half human devoured one another. p. xix of the Foreword to –The Arctic:Environment, People, Policy (2000) Ed. by Terry V. Callaghan

Book title: Without Cease The Earth Faintly Trembles
By Amanda Marchand (2003)

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9 thoughts on “Without Cease”

  1. I would argue that using the pope as a “current” example might not be the best of ideas. Look at him: the pope is absolutely ancient. But none of that matters; I like “without cease” and the associated aged style. It gives sentences a nice, broken-in feeling that “current” styles are too new to impart.

  2. Actually, Maeve, I didn’t have any problem with “cease,” although I could have accepted “ceasing” as well. But wouldn’t “ceasing” still be a noun (granted, a verbal form–a gerund), the object of the preposition “without,” rather than an action verb?

  3. The problem with a lot of these terms is that they sound awkward, which is reason enough for me not to use them. “The wind blew relentlessly for three days.” Or, “Man, it was really windy. Wouldn’t you agree?”

  4. Grace — yes, “ceasing” in the phrase “without ceasing” is a verbal noun, but it “feels” like a verb.

    Vic — diction is a subjective thing. What sounds awkward to one person may sound elegant to another.

  5. This article and subsequent comments illustrate how a writer’s style can be perceived by different readers. I didn’t even pause at “without cease.”

    I suspect, and this is an opinion only, that exposure to a broad range of reading materials helps a reader to be more flexible in understanding and more accepting of differing styles.

  6. OK, throw my own words back at me.

    In the illustration, “The wind blew without cease.” – If I think of the wind, then the wind might cease or persist. If I think of the blowing (blew), then without ceasing seems appropriate, or even the colorful relentlessly.

    Would relent and relentlessly work the same way in this illustration? “The wind blew without relent.” “The wind blew relentlessly.” I can easily see that one form or the other would better match the color of the surrounding text.

  7. Interesting observation, Brad K. I believe that either “without relent” or “relentlessly” would be considered grammatically correct; however, “without relent” certainly sounds much more formal (or stilted), and I don’t believe many writers would think of writing it that way.

    Actually, I just looked it up–“relent” is listed only as a verb, not as a noun (at least in my admittedly old Merriam Webster dictionary), so it appears the only grammatically correct form is “relentlessly!”

  8. Out in western Oklahoma where we know about wind, the wind blows constantly. Or so it seems. A native would be eyed askance if she said, “The wind blew without cease,” or “the wind blew unceasingly,” or “the wind did not cease for forty days and forty nights.” By the way, at one time out near Boise City a large rock hung from a chain beneath a sign that identified the device as a wind meter. We do know our wind.

  9. Actually, after thinking it over, I think the sign identified the rock on the chain as a wind gauge. And maybe it was a cement block on a chain. And maybe the thing hung out near Texhoma. Years have passed. Memories grow inconstant. The wind out there is pretty reliable.

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