There's a commonplace form in AmE, "as per your asking"... (Note this question by a rightly confused non-native speaker.)

It occurred to me that "asking" makes a beautiful noun.

(Particularly if you pulp YA for a living ... consider say crap like "The Giver" .. that would be a perfect sequel title ... "The Asking". Sounds great, right? I mean, it cries italics. You don't even have to add italics: you just look at it, and your deepest linguistic processes lean it to the right. It's sort of a linguistic optical typographical illusion.)

{Come to think of it, it's essentially the perfect title for any YA series book. Vampire Academy: The Asking. Surviving the fog: The Asking. Etc.}

So ... it's time for the asking. (Political context.) Tonight comes the asking. (Marriage upcoming.) We're going to have the asking later. (Child raising.)

My question, it has a ye-olde feel. In fact, was "asking" used, perhaps .. in the 1800s? Or earlier? Or has it never been used before? Is it a recent coinage like other Americanisms, or?

Doh: FYI I forgot about the common form "...for the asking", which seems related to, but not the same as, the above.

  • I know the asking (sometimes pluralized) is archaic/dialectal for reading of the marriage banns, and I assume your first example simply equates the asking with the election (not that I've ever encountered that usage). But what does your third example have to do with child raising? Aug 10, 2015 at 13:10
  • @FumbleFingers - I think in this example the parent is trying to quiet the incessant asking of questions by the child. Aug 10, 2015 at 13:31
  • @aparente001: I'm sure Joe knows what he meant. But if I hadn't happened to know asking(s) = banns I'd have assumed that one was just a reference to popping the question (marriage proposal). I don't know any corresponding usage relating to the rearing of children, so I'm interested to know what Joe has in mind there. Aug 10, 2015 at 13:40
  • Hi Fumble ... stern Dad speaking: "So, a window has been broken. At this moment we do not know who did it. After supper and Bible, we will have the asking." Seems pretty straightforward "asking" == event where some question is asked. (What else could it mean?) Precisely as in the other three examples.
    – Fattie
    Aug 10, 2015 at 14:02
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    @JoeBlow “banns Etymology: The same word as ban sb.1 ‘proclamation,’ in a specific use, in which it was from some cause regularly pronounced with long ā from 15th to 17th c. [...] The singular occurs in 15th c.; the plural only is found after. 1. Proclamation or public notice given in church of an intended marriage, in order that those who know of any impediment thereto may have opportunity of lodging objections. Phrases: to bid (obs.), ask, publish, put up the banns.”
    – tchrist
    Aug 10, 2015 at 16:18

1 Answer 1


Þære spræce and þære ácsunge

You suggested perhaps the 1800s for the origin of this use: I’ll see that bet and raise you a millennium. Not an Americanism but perhaps a Wessexism, for some one thousand one hundred and thirty years ago in ᴀᴅ 885, King Ælfred the Great wrote not only:

Hit is þeaw þære spræce and þære ácsunge.

but also:

Mid ascunga.

Much more recently, Shakespeare wrote in King Henry VIII:

Bestowing on him, at his asking, The Archbishopricke of Toledo.

And again in Coriolanus:

Yet dare I neuer Deny your asking.

When Tennyson wrote Tithonus, he deliberately used this archaizing word to lend an air of antiquity to his verse:

Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile.

This deliberately hearkens back to olden times, where such things as this from the 1410 Pynson translation of Bonaventura’s Myrrour were readily found:

Our lady··answereth sadly and shortly to theyr askynges.

Almost all such uses of asking save for Ælfred’s are now considered archaic or obsolete by the OED. The King’s sense of the word was “the action of putting a question, interrogation, inquiry”, and this is the one still employed in yours for the asking.

Inquiries quickly become requests, and Shakespeare’s Henry VIII use (“the action of requesting a favour, gift, etc.; praying, begging”) is also still considered current. However, his Coriolanus use (“a petition, prayer, a supplication”) is now archaic.

There is also the regional use of an asking meaning the publication of marriage “banns” (proclamations of marriage), but this is very limited in distribution.


Even though askings as a count noun has existed since time immemorial, it is now sufficiently obsolete that most spellchecking programs will flag it as an error in Modern English.

To most people, “What’s your ask?” and “Did he send in his asking yet?” sound like nothing but annoying business jargon instead of like forgotten pieces of English dug up from some ancient graveyard.

All citations are from the OED.

  • 2
    Amazing information, T !
    – Fattie
    Aug 10, 2015 at 14:00
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    Hi T .. myself (and probably many others), we here are not intelligent enough to read middle English (is that what it is?) .. perhaps you should offer a transliteration or respelling as well??
    – Fattie
    Aug 10, 2015 at 14:17
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    important regarding your final aside. are you saying that you know that 'asking' is sometimes used in superfluous-busines-English .. or did you just make that up on the spot (along the lines of: "heh, 'asking' would be perfect as a piece of superfluous business English"....) What's the deal there? cheers
    – Fattie
    Aug 10, 2015 at 14:19
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    @JoeBlow King Ælfred wrote in Old English. The word thew once meant habit or custom, so his first line runs something like “It is the custom of their speech and of their asking.” The second quote of his is simply “Mid asking”. Ask yes, an ask or an asking is current business jargon.
    – tchrist
    Aug 10, 2015 at 15:07
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    @Tonny You call it Germanic—I’d call it at the very least Indo-European, and probably Indo-Uralic and whatever comes before that. Aug 10, 2015 at 17:12

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