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The obscure preposition anent has a long history, going back as far as Beowulf:

him on efn ligeð ealdorgewinna [line 2903] ("beside him lies his great enemy")

It has carried many meanings, including "near", "beside", "toward", "against", "among" and "on behalf of". Today the usual sense is "about" or "concerning", as in:

More movement on the seesaw anent the further transfer of powers to Holyrood - but no clear view yet of the endgame.

from the BBC's Brian Taylor. This meaning seems to remain alive in Scotland, and even elsewhere (though it may be seen as affected).

The OED has, as the only other non-obsolete sense, "Of position: fronting, opposite, over against, close against, close to" with the note that "many northern dialects now have fore-nent." Their most recent quotation is from The Dark Huntsman (Charles Heavysege, 1864):

The huntsman came after, full fleet as the wind,
Anent me a moment, tall, tarried behind

My question: Is this meaning of anent (or fore-nent) still current in any dialect of English - or should it now get the †dagger too?

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I can't think of any words ending with anent except permanent. Is this a clue to its origins, or just a coincidence? –  pavium Jul 17 '11 at 10:00
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permanent is a red herring - it's from Latin manens for "remaining". OTOH anent was Old English on efn (like "on even", meaning "on a level with") then onefent before becoming anent. –  alexg Jul 17 '11 at 11:47
    
Just a coincidence then. Thanks, @alexg –  pavium Jul 17 '11 at 11:53
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Dunno. The only time I ever use anent is in Boggle. :) –  Marthaª Mar 30 '13 at 19:51

7 Answers 7

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I have not run across this term in my own dialects of English (American, West Coast), but I did find this in Wiktionary:

anent:

  1. (obsolete) Against, in front of.

  2. (archaic or dialectal, chiefly Scottish) Concerning, with regard to.

I am wary of blindly accepting Wiktionary as a source, but it may be that anent has fallen out of usage entirely. However, in 1913 it was still listed in Webster's dictionary, so the drop from usage may be after your last available cited quotation.

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The current OED is just about a bazinga times superior to Wikshunary, and still a huge whole lot better than a 1913 Webster’s. –  tchrist May 31 '12 at 23:59

HP Lovecraft was still using the word anent in his letters to colleagues in the 30's. But he was well known for his archaic diction. So I'm not sure that's the best example.

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I've never heard it, but the OED says it's "still common in northern dialect and in literary and legal Scotch".

Of some 15 definitions and sub-definitions for anent, all but two are daggered and obsolete and/or dialect:

  • A.I.†1. Obs. or dial.
  • A.I.†2. Obs. or dial.
  • A.I.†3. Obs. or dial.
  • A.I.†4. Obs.
  • A.II.†5. Obs. rare.
  • A.II.†6. Obs.
  • A.III.7. Of position: fronting, opposite, over against, close against, close to. arch. or dial. In this sense many northern dialects have now fore-nent.
  • A.III.†8. Obs.
  • A.III.†9. Obs.
  • A.III.†10.a. Obs.
  • A.III.†10.†b. Obs.
  • A.III.11 In respect or reference to, respecting, regarding, concerning, about. (Common in Scottish law phraseology, and affected by many English writers.)
  • †B. Obs. or dial.

Their etymology explains:

The form-history of this wd. presents several points not fully explained; the primitive form is the Old English phrase on efen , on efn , on emn , with the dative = ‘on even (ground) with, on a level with,’ whence later side by side with , beside , face to face with , opposite , against , towards , in view of , etc.; cognate with Old Saxon an eban , Middle High German eneben , neben , and (with phonetic -t ) nebent . In English also a final -t had been developed by 1200, interchanging with -d , perhaps by form-assoc. with some other word. At the same time this extended form occurs with final -e and -es , after datival and genitival words like on-bute(n , on-ȝeanes . Following the latter class also, the final -s became in 14th cent. -st , giving anentist , anentst , anenst , as the midl. form, in literary use in 17th cent., and still dialectal. The north preserved the earlier anent , still common in northern dialect, and in literary and legal Scotch, whence not unfrequent in literary English during the 19th cent. The early form anende may have been influenced by the an-end adv. phr. an-end adv.; anont, anond(e, are not explained. The development of meaning is largely parallel to that of again, against.

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Very much actively in use in contemporary Scottish writing & letters. Usefully short for tweeting, & part of a mild "Scots" revival, consequent upon a tide of constitutional politics in Scotland.

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This is good information. Can you share some sources? –  KitFox Feb 16 '13 at 11:56

I first came across it in Disraeli's letters to Lady Bradford, in 1874. Although this is much earlier than others have evinced, he uses it several times, without it seeming to be an obvious archaic contrivance.

Although I do not have the source with me, the context was "I and Salisbury spoke about the Turkish issue, then I wrote to the queen anent"

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"Then a Cabinet at three which lasted till nearly six, then I had to write to the Queen anent: and now to somebody else who must not be angry if these hasty lines are dull and meagre." link: archive.org/stream/lettersofdisrael009336mbp/… is this the document you mentioned? –  Mari-Lou A Aug 14 '13 at 6:27

Anent was used in Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, here at the start of book 4’s chapter 11:

Mrs John Rokesmith sat at needlework in her neat little room, beside a basket of neat little articles of clothing, which presented so much of the appearance of being in the dolls’ dressmaker’s way of business, that one might have supposed she was going to set up in opposition to Miss Wren. Whether the Complete British Family Housewife had imparted sage counsel anent them, did not appear, but probably not, as that cloudy oracle was nowhere visible. For certain, however, Mrs John Rokesmith stitched at them with so dexterous a hand, that she must have taken lessons of somebody. Love is in all things a most wonderful teacher, and perhaps love (from a pictorial point of view, with nothing on but a thimble), had been teaching this branch of needlework to Mrs John Rokesmith.

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The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has just decided to stop using "anent" in Church legislation. I'm a Scots lawyer and, although I don't think I've ever used "anent", I occasionally use "thereanent" in correspondence or formal documents.

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