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Google Ngram Viewer shows a decline in the use of “nothing loath” since the 1970s unlike its antonym “loath” which is still widely used.

Would it be appropriate for me to use it or has it become obsolete?

  • 'nothing loath' is an adjective? – Mitch Jun 17 '13 at 22:55
  • It's certainly unknown to AmE speakers; I can't tell you how well known it is to BrE speakers. – Phil Perry Jun 25 '14 at 15:35
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You only need to look at one chart to answer the question. Note the variant spellings, which have declined in lockstep over the past century...

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But I would also point out that at least some of the "contemporary" instances will actually be citing earlier usages, so the decline is in fact steeper than the chart would suggest.

Having said that, the expression is at least "known" to many native speakers. But that doesn't mean it's "current" in natural speech. On the rare occasions when people use it (in speech or in writing) today, it's usually somewhat "facetious" (effectively, a deliberate archaism).

Also note that it's a "set phrase" that doesn't reflect modern grammar. You could reasonably (if "mock-archaically") say "Our waiter was nothing loth to accept a handsome gratuity", but you certainly couldn't say he was "nothing unwilling", for example.

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    The expression is certainly not familiar to this native speaker. It is regional? If I heard it, I would think that either the speaker had mis-spoken or I had mis-heard. Unless it was immediately clear from the context, I also think I might struggle to understand what was intended. – TrevorD Jun 17 '13 at 23:20
  • @TrevorD: Methinks perhaps we don't have a common understanding of the word familiar. Presumably you didn't look at the first word in this comment and think Blimey! I've never seen that word before!. I'd have thought if you read anything earlier than today's newspaper you can hardly avoid coming up against it now and then. I didn't say everybody knows it - my whole point is hardly anyone uses it. Maybe less than 50% of adult Brits actually know of it, I don't really know (I couldn't believe less than 30%, anyway). Most native native Anglophones on ELU though, surely. – FumbleFingers Jun 18 '13 at 1:37
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    @FF Methinks we probably do have a common understanding of familiar - but maybe not of most?! I agree that theoretically most means >50%, but methinks that in practice it is probably more often used to mean, say, >75%. I certainly didn't understand you as saying "everybody knows it", and maybe I am in a minority. I was stating - and perhaps over-emphasising - that I had never heard it (as far as I can recall). I also wondered whether it's regional - either between countries (e.g. UK - US), or within a country. – TrevorD Jun 18 '13 at 10:55
  • @TrevorD: Okay, I'll change it to many. I notice that again you refer to hearing the expression, whereas I'm mainly thinking in terms of people reading it. It certainly wouldn't be used in "natural" speech by many if any people today, and to be honest I wouldn't actually bet my £1 at odds of 50-50 that more than half of all native speakers would say "Yes, that term is familiar to me". – FumbleFingers Jun 18 '13 at 17:11
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    @TrevorD: I can't think of many other contexts (modern or archaic) where "nothing" is used in this way to mean "not at all". I guess maybe "What do you think of my new car?" - "Not much - it's nothing special.". – FumbleFingers Jun 19 '13 at 12:25
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The Ngram Viewer gives this:

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However, searching for the phrase "nothing loath" on Google Books returns several results from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries that use the phrase. The ones from early in the twentieth century seem legitimate works, but later results seem mostly to be dictionaries or reprints of older works (e.g. the Iliad). The OED, however, does not have any citations after 1873 - technically 1852.

I think it safe to assume that the phrase has fallen out of use, though I don't think its meaning would be terribly hard to discern for someone who hasn't heard it but knows the meaning of "loath". ("He was nothing loath to do something." "He was not loath to do something.") I don't for that reason really want to discourage you from using the phrase.

EDIT: I included the phrases "not loath" and "not unwilling" in my Ngram search this time, and got these results.

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Phrase derives from Milton's Paradise Lost, was picked up in eighteenth century in heightened diction (literary), and eventually became more common still. "Not unwilling" the present counterpart that might still be in wider use; the more literary "nothing loath" will be so arch now that even in UK not current.

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