Ask Artie #3: On Anon

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I requested the help of a business colleague, not knowing he was on vacation.  He placed his leisure on hold and got back to work.  I told him to get back to his vacation and that we’d deal with the matter when he returned, but he kept working.   When urged again to stop he replied, “ I know, I know… get back to my vacation.  More anon…”

Can you please explain more about “anon” and its usage here?


-Lady Violet

My dear Lady Violet –

Anon, in this case, is an adverb that means soon, eventually or later, but like many words in its class, like presently, directly, and even shortly, it used to have a much less relaxed meaning.  In the 15th Century and before, going all the way back to Old English, anon meant immediately, or at once.  Etymologically, anon comes from the Old English on án, meaning in one or one thing, which is so broad as to be almost meaningless.  But yes.  Adverbs like anon, presently, and directly began as words that connoted immediacy, but over time, through their increased use and perhaps overuse, their meaning shifted.  Now, when you say anon or presently, you’re exaggerating; this kind of semantic shift is an example of hyperbole.

Just like you’d say, “I don’t want to walk to the store; it’s a billion miles from here!” or “You carry my suitcase; it weighs a ton,” you’d say, “I’ll be there presently,” which used to mean, “I’ll be there right now“, but now means, “I’ll be there in a bit.”  Basically, hyperbole is linguistically-sanctioned lying.  Good job, you fabulous fabulist!  Anon is used exactly the same way, although it’s almost always used in a jocular tone, as it’s archaic and obscure.  This last should by no means preclude you from using anon, just know that you’ve just set up your little hobbyhorse next to mine; welcome to the deliciously futile practice of resurrecting obsolete words!  I’ve been agitating for people to say Horsefeathers and applesauce! instead of that’s a lie!, as well as poppycock, balderdash, and bunkum, for years.  I also wholeheartedly endorse criminy as an interjection or mild expletive.  What are your favorite archaisms?

Thanks for writing, Lady Violet!  I hope this proved elucidating for you; if not, more to come anon!

Remember: if you’ve got an intractable grammatical issue, you can always Ask Artie!

Yours in learning,