• avast •
ê-væst • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Interjection
Meaning: (Nautical) Stop! Stay! Hold on! Cease! Desist!
Notes: Here is a nautical exclamation, like 'shiver me timbers', that is heard these days only in proper names, like 'Avast Antivirus' or 'Avast Software'. It is only read in 18th and 19th century creative works involving piracy. As an interjection, it has no lexical family.
In Play: Here is a sample of what you might read in 19th century novels like Robert Lewis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883): "Avast, me hearties, cast off and let us forsake this God-forsaken island!" Another you might read is: "Avast ye maties, now swab the deck and be quick about it!"
Word History: Today's Good Word is probably a reduction of Dutch houd vast "hold fast", cousin of the English phrase 'hold fast'. Hold was covered in behold. Fast comes from PIE past- "solid, firm", which seems to have taken up residence in the Germanic languages: English fast, German fest, Dutch vast, and Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish fast—all preserving the original PIE sense of "solid, firm". Outside the Germanic languages we find only Sanskrit pastyam "residence" and Armenian hast "tight, firm". Fasting also comes from this word, so we are not surprised to see it in breakfast, originally the meal you ended a fast with. Shamefaced also arose from this word. In Old English it was sceam- "shame" + fæst "fixed, firm", converted by folk etymology when the meaning of fast changed. (Now a grandiose "thanks" to Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira, long-time editor of the GW series, whose curiosity of today's piratical Good Word led to its being brought to our attention.)
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