OED (3rd edn, 2017):

[A.] 1. Forming a conjunctional phrase introducing a case in which an exception to a preceding negative statement (expressed or implied) will or may exist: (not) on a less or lower condition, requirement, etc., than (what is specified). Obs[olete].

Let's contemplate:

  1. Exercise, unless you spurn healthfulness.

that ought to mean:

  1. Exercise, if you spurn not healthfulness.

Here's the snag. If I substitute 1 into 2, then 2 becomes:

  1. Exercise, (not) on a less or lower condition, requirement than you spurn healthfulness.

But how does 4 signify the same as 3?

  • 1
    Notice how your definition says obsolete? You cannot explain how 2, a current phrase, means what you propose in 4 because in 2 unless does not take on the obsolete definition you cite in 1. – Jim Jul 7 '15 at 20:40
  • The definition uses the word "than". This does not mean that the word being defined is found in combination with the word "than". – TRomano Jul 7 '15 at 22:16

I think StoneyB's answer to your earlier and almost identical question is quite clear?

If you look at the quotes there, the obsolete construction that you are asking about worked like this:

Do not eat fish unless than it is fresh.

Which in non-obsolete English would be rendered as

Do not eat fish unless it is fresh.

The "lesser condition" that seems to confuse you is quite simply:

Do not eat fish if it is less than fresh.

The condition of it not being fresh is a lesser condition than the mentioned condition of the fish being fresh.

To make it even clearer, consider:

Do not sell the house unless than an offer of 200k is on the table.

The condition is an offer of 200k is on the table. In the case of any lesser condition (less than 200k being offered), do not sell the house.

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  • 1
    Couldn't you as requested clarify that offerings of more than 200k would actually be acceptable by saying, "Do not sell the house unless an offer of at least 200k is on the table"? The problem with the word 'fresh' is that it's Boolean in nature: you are either fresh or you are not. There is no direction to be more or less fresh. It isn't a quantity. You could instead say, "Do not eat fish older than 3 days", or "Do not invest in companies unless the are at least 2 years old" because both of those, like the house price, are actually quantities. – Chris Subagio Jul 8 '15 at 4:04
  • "Fresh" is not Boolean. Your nose can tell the difference between fish that is "less than fresh" and fish that is old. It is a continuum. Perhaps not quantifiable in discrete increments, but that's often the nature of a continuum. – Brian Hitchcock Jul 8 '15 at 6:26
  • Thanks. I did cogitate over StoneyB's answer, but I still failed to connect the obsolete definition to a modern use of 'syntax'. – NNOX Apps Jul 9 '15 at 19:33

Do not do X in circumstances that do not meet or satisfy condition Y.

Don't {blow up the munitions dump} unless {the invading army has entered the city}.

fall short of ~ in less than

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