As I was finishing Ascham's "Toxophilus" I've stumbled over this phrase, the meaning of which remained unclear to me: "An other wil stand poyntinge his shafte at the marke a good whyle and by and by he wyll gyue hym a whip, and awaye or a man wite". The context can be seen here.

I came to understand the phrase thus: "Another will stand pointing his arrow at the target for a good while and on and on he will give himself a whip (on the arm?) and go away before anyone should know".

I'm not sure, however. Firstly, what does the pronoun "him" refer to? Does it denote an archer? Ascham uses "himself" quite regularly in similar cases, e.g. "defend his country, and save himself from his enemy", "archer ought to provide for himself" etc. Why not here? "Him" could possibly be applied to the shaft, although I have trouble imagining how one would go about flogging an arrow. At first I thought maybe by a "whip" Ascham meant an act of loosing an arrow, but "whip" must mean "a blow or stroke with, or as with, a whip", since Oxford English Dictionary uses this particular sentence to illustrate the meaning. Even though I have some thoughts as to how standing with an arrow drawn can result in an injury, still it feels like a conjecture.

"By and by" could alternatively mean "consequently", or "soon" even, so it doesn't really clear things up.

Finally, I'm at a loss regarding why Ascham would put "wit" in a subjunctive mood. Does it add any peculiar meaning to the sentence? Does the archer in question try to leave before anybody takes notice of his awkward shooting? Or is it just a phrase meaning "very shortly"? Why then not say "or a man wot" instead?

So, am I the only nitwit who's confused by Ascham's usage of English or is it a genuinely complicated phrase allowing for interpretation? I'm eager to know.

P.S. As a bonus question, what's the meaning of the preposition "of" in a phrase: "All the discommodities ... [can not be] soon reckoned of me, they be so many." Same source. I couldn't find a similar usage of the word anywhere.

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    Could you give a link to the text and mention where the specific paragraph is please. This makes it easier for us to read the prior text. Thanks. Note that the use of 'him' can be reflexive and occur where today we would say 'himself'. Example: "Then I got me a piece of the goat's flesh and broiled it on the coals" goo.gl/m3p2jn Nowadays we would say "I got myself a piece of the goat's flesh..." or simply "I got a piece of the goat's flesh..." Nov 12, 2015 at 10:34
  • The Internet-page with the corresponding portion of Ascham's text is already linked at the end of my question's first paragraph, but here: http://www.archerylibrary.com/books/toxophilus/second_book06.html Also, in regards to "him", I absolutely agree that it can be a substitute for "himself", but Ascham's specific usage of these two words seems to indicate otherwise (see my initial question's 3rd paragraph).
    – Grenelef
    Nov 12, 2015 at 11:09
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    Regarding your P.S., reckoned of: of with the past participle in passive constructions expresses agency. It can be paraphrased "by". They cannot be reckoned by me. See of in the MED, #22.
    – TimR
    Nov 12, 2015 at 11:48
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    Why wite? "or a man wite" means "ere a man know" and thus expresses an irrealis condition.
    – TimR
    Nov 12, 2015 at 12:03
  • @TimRomano, thanks for the answer and a reference to MED. It makes perfect sense now.
    – Grenelef
    Nov 12, 2015 at 16:12

1 Answer 1


whip might be used either in reference to the shaft/bow or (as pointed out by chasly in the comment) to his person, and this in the sense of jolt, a sudden movement. (The usage of whip in the sense of "move fast or suddenly" can be traced back to the 18th century (at least, didn't have time for searching further), as in "whipping up the stairs".) away, meanwhile, may allude to the shaft being loosened:

"Another will stand pointing his arrow at the target for a good while and after some time he'll make a sudden movement and the arrow is gone before anyone should know".


"Another will stand pointing his arrow at the target for a good while and after some time he'll suddenly loosen the arrow, and it is gone before anyone should know".

This is, of course, interpretative guesswork for now, and might be completely off the mark (no pun).

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    Instead of loosened and loosen (made less tight), did you mean loosed and loose (let fly)? Guns are fired; arrows are loosed.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 12, 2015 at 11:38
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    +1 This matches perfectly with the OED's definition 10a: " A sudden, brisk, or hasty movement; a start;" Nov 12, 2015 at 11:49
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    +1. Him is referring to the shafte.
    – TimR
    Nov 12, 2015 at 11:57
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    My bad, Grenelef, when answering I somehow failed to remember you'd already gone through that! Also: you may be a nitwit, I wouldn't know, but certainly not for asking those questions, which are rather interesting. Also: it's a great book. Also: I'll try to help find an answer to your other question as soon as I find some time. Nov 12, 2015 at 13:21
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    I would assume, since the meaning "A sudden, brisk, or hasty movement; a start;" fits this sentence so well, and is the right time period (Ascham predates the OED's first citation for this sense by 11 years) that the OED somehow managed to get this one wrong. Nov 12, 2015 at 13:56

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