Although the meaning of the phrase was provided in this post, in addition to having an entry on wiktionary, how exactly did the idiom originate? From my interpretations, "not but" combined with either "that" or "what" is syntactically incorrect, and so did it evolve from some earlier linguistic construction that may have been syntactically "correct" with reference to earlier English syntactic rules?


1 Answer 1


Nobbut, no but, and various other spellings are not currently standard English, although they were at one time. It is therefore difficult to say if anything is grammatically correct. Dialect has its own grammar.

Your point is addressed at the 1870 quote.

The OED will help:

nobbut, prep., conj., and adv.

Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈnɒbət/, U.S. /ˈnɑbət/

Origin: Formed within English, by compounding. Etymons: no adv.1, but conj.

Now English regional (chiefly northern).

A. prep.Except, other than. Now rare.

c1449 R. Pecock Repressor (1860) 224 (MED) Here is noon other thing no but the hous of God.

1903 in Eng. Dial. Dict. (at cited word) Aw've nowt to leov nobbut mi cloas. [I have nothing to leave (in my will) except my clothes]

2. Except that. Now rare.

1870 E. Peacock Ralf Skirlaugh I. 36 This Billy hed a granfather just such another man for all the warld as he is, nobut he wasn't lame. [The Billy that I am referring to had a grandfather who looked like him, except [for the fact] that he was not lame.]

C. adv. Only, merely, just. like. 1929 J. B. Priestley Good Compan. i. v. 196 It's nobbut Thursday, isn't it? Well, it seems like months.

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