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View Full Version : Ahold's not a word?



Puddle Jumper
04-16-2006, 07:23 AM
I want to write, "Grab ahold of something!" But spell check says it should read, "Grab a hold of something!" or "Grab hold of something!"

Is ahold not a word because I say the word all the time and I say it like it's one word.

Sage
04-16-2006, 07:34 AM
I thought it was a single word too, but simplified to "hold" when I got tired of the spellcheck telling me it wasn't. (Actually, looking at it in the post, it does look a little weird)

veronie
04-16-2006, 07:47 AM
The use of "ahold" is just "a hold" run together in casual speech. Is this dialogue or narrative, or what?

MacAllister
04-16-2006, 07:48 AM
Hmm. It looks funny, but dictionary.com (%0Ahttp://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=ahold) lists it as a word:


a·hold http://cache.lexico.com/dictionary/graphics/AHD4/JPG/pron.jpg (https://secure.reference.com/premium/login.html?rd=2&u=http%3A%2F%2Fdictionary.reference.com%2Fsearch%3 Fq%3Dahold) ( P ) Pronunciation Key (http://dictionary.reference.com/help/ahd4/pronkey.html) (http://cache.lexico.com/dictionary/graphics/AHD4/GIF/schwa.gif-hhttp://cache.lexico.com/dictionary/graphics/AHD4/GIF/omacr.gifldhttp://cache.lexico.com/dictionary/graphics/AHD4/GIF/prime.gif)
n. Hold; grip: “I knew I could make it all right if I got... back to the hotel and got ahold of that bottle of brandy” (Jimmy Breslin).

Sage
04-16-2006, 07:50 AM
LOL. I just checked that & was coming back to post the same thing.

veronie
04-16-2006, 07:56 AM
Webster's New World lists it as a colloquialism. I would use it only in dialogue. Again, all you have here are the two words, "a hold," run together. It came about after years of people saying the two words so fast they started sounding like one word.

MacAllister
04-16-2006, 08:00 AM
Oh sure--clearly it's a colloquialism, and informal speech. PJ's example was a perfectly appropriate context for informal diction, though.

Puddle Jumper
04-16-2006, 08:02 AM
Webster's New World lists it as a colloquialism. I would use it only in dialogue. Again, all you have here are the two words, "a hold," run together. It came about after years of people saying the two words so fast they started sounding like one word.
Well if you think about it, why would you say, "Grab a hold of something?" Grammatically I would say the "a" doesn't belong there. It would then be "Grab hold of something." Grab is a verb and hold is something, not sure what, but a wouldn't belong in front of it.

But in speech we do say ahold a lot. Why I don't know. I probably heard it enough times that it became a part of my speech.

Medievalist
04-16-2006, 08:04 AM
The first attestation in the OED is from 1879; it is dialectical and colloquial. It came to the U. S. via immigrants from Scotland and the north of England.

The "a" of a-hold is a fossilized preposition. This is not very common in English, so philologists get all excited and have to get a-hold of themselves when they see one.

Puddle Jumper
04-16-2006, 08:11 AM
The first attestation in the OED is from 1879; it is dialectical and colloquial. It came to the U. S. via immigrants from Scotland and the north of England.

The "a" of a-hold is a fossilized preposition. This is not very common in English, so philologists get all excited and have to get a-hold of themselves when they see one.
That sounds really interesting. I don't suppose you have a link where I could read more about it do you? BTW, what does OED stand for?

Medievalist
04-16-2006, 08:26 AM
That sounds really interesting. I don't suppose you have a link where I could read more about it do you? BTW, what does OED stand for?

OED==Oxford Enlish Dictionary; it's a historical dictionary of the complete English language; the "historical" part means that it attempts to identify every single word in English, ever, and the way it has been used throughout history, with examples of actual use.

The current edition is 20 volumes, 21,730 pages, of big dictionary or folio sized books. You can read about the OED here (http://www.oed.com/about/). Your public library probably has a copy of the whole thing, and might even have online access, where you could, in fact read about a-hold.

veronie
04-16-2006, 08:31 AM
Puddle. Good point about the "a" not being necessary. When you think about it, the "hold" doesn't need to be there either. In the spirit of tightening up language, you could just say, "grab something." It seems to me that "grab a hold of something" is like saying "grab a grab of something" with the second grab acting like a noun meaning "something that is grabbed.

Medievalist
04-16-2006, 08:33 AM
Well if you think about it, why would you say, "Grab a hold of something?" Grammatically I would say the "a" doesn't belong there. It would then be "Grab hold of something." Grab is a verb and hold is something, not sure what, but a wouldn't belong in front of it.

But in speech we do say ahold a lot. Why I don't know. I probably heard it enough times that it became a part of my speech.

If you're writing dialog, the dialog should sound the way that character would speak. If the character is "thinking" then that too should reflect the individualiity of the character.

Language shapes thought.

Puddle Jumper
04-16-2006, 08:52 AM
Puddle. Good point about the "a" not being necessary. When you think about it, the "hold" doesn't need to be there either. In the spirit of tightening up language, you could just say, "grab something." It seems to me that "grab a hold of something" is like saying "grab a grab of something" with the second grab acting like a noun meaning "something that is grabbed.

But grabbing something could mean picking something up. To grab ahold (or grab hold) of something implies you're not grabbing something to pick up but you're grabbing something you can't move to stable or steady yourself or whatever reason you have not to be moved.

reph
04-16-2006, 10:26 AM
The "a" of a-hold is a fossilized preposition.How do we know lexicographers didn't plant it there to test our faith?

"Grab hold of the doorknob" doesn't make sense, when you think about it. What am I grabbing? Hold. So I'm grabbing hold? What does that mean? I thought I grabbed the doorknob.

Before answering machines existed, people who'd failed to reach someone by phone commonly said "I couldn't get ahold of him." Full dialect-relevant disclosure: I grew up in California. My parents were from the upper Midwest.

MacAllister
04-16-2006, 10:37 AM
Oooh. I love those tough-to-nail down linguistic oddities--like the "y'all" pronoun, which is singular, plural, male, female, mixed...

Jamesaritchie
04-16-2006, 11:06 AM
Before answering machines existed, people who'd failed to reach someone by phone commonly said "I couldn't get ahold of him." Full dialect-relevant disclosure: I grew up in California. My parents were from the upper Midwest.

This is the context I'm most familiar with. I still hear it pretty often, answering machines or not, but I still live in the upper midwest.

I don't like "grab ahold of something," though it may be because I've seldom heard "ahold" used this way, even in the midwest.

"Ahold" is in at least eleven dictionaries, not counting the OED, and the usage is always, I think, "get ahold," as in "get ahold of something or someone," which seems right to me. This is certainly how I would use it. The "get" seems to belong there.

I'd be wary of having a character use it unless I wanted him to use other such dialect routinely, but I do think "ahold" can be classed as a real word. And I've been in a couple of states where accent turns "ahold" into "aholt."

I don't know whether there's a connection but a couple of hundred years back, a common word in sailing was "aho'ld," which meant laying close to the wind in a ship. The apostrophe was soon dropped, and "lay the ship ahold" became standard. Then "ahold the wind" also became standard usage for a time."

reph
04-16-2006, 11:38 AM
I'd be wary of having a character use it unless I wanted him to use other such dialect routinely....Here's a problem for writers who haven't lived in enough places or didn't pay attention to the details of speech where they were. How is one to determine what other dialect fits in the same class as "get ahold"? To me, "get ahold" sounds normal, not dialectal, though it does sound colloquial and a bit old-fashioned. What dialectal expressions go with it?

For example, do the same people who say "get ahold" use "was (were) to" for "went to"? My mother used to write that she "was to Fresno yesterday." No one I know now uses "was" that way. People say "I've never been to Fresno," but they don't use the past tense of "to be" with that meaning.

Jamesaritchie
04-16-2006, 12:27 PM
Here's a problem for writers who haven't lived in enough places or didn't pay attention to the details of speech where they were. How is one to determine what other dialect fits in the same class as "get ahold"? To me, "get ahold" sounds normal, not dialectal, though it does sound colloquial and a bit old-fashioned. What dialectal expressions go with it?

For example, do the same people who say "get ahold" use "was (were) to" for "went to"? My mother used to write that she "was to Fresno yesterday." No one I know now uses "was" that way. People say "I've never been to Fresno," but they don't use the past tense of "to be" with that meaning.

To be perfectly honest, I don't know. Having a character stay in consistent dialect is probably one of the toughest things to do in fiction, unless the dialect is your own. I do my best to research regional dialect, and to get in enough for flavor. The main thing, I think, is to not use dialect inconsistent with a region, rather than trying to get in all the dialect that is common to a region. This means not having a midwestern country boy use a phrase common to a California valley girl.

But it is tough, and people travel and relocate a great deal more than they did only a couple of generations ago, and dialect is becoming a mixed bag of tricks. Reading regional writers helps, and online research can help, though what would help more would be if a few more websites knew the difference between dialect and accent.

But it's tough, and I think the best we can do is to be as consistent as possible, and to not violate dialect, even if we can't always get it right.



Some words are especially tough, and for me, at least "ahold" is one of them. It's about as close to a "betwixt and betweener" as any word I know. I think it is dialect, it is a colloquilism, but it is also, I think, a genuine word. For me, this means I have to play it by ear. Does it sound right to have a particular character use it? Doe sit have the same flavor, the same pattern, as his speech in general?

But it's tough, and this is probably one of those cases where using a given word is wrong if it sounds wrong, and probbaly right if it sounds right, to a given writer's ear and experience.

Medievalist
04-16-2006, 06:46 PM
I don't know whether there's a connection but a couple of hundred years back, a common word in sailing was "aho'ld," which meant laying close to the wind in a ship. The apostrophe was soon dropped, and "lay the ship ahold" became standard. Then "ahold the wind" also became standard usage for a time."

You know, I at first thought there had to be a relationship, and the OED lists both, but suggest they are separate.

I'm less sure, and am trying not to be teased by the question into doing more research, though it is a very seductive question . . .

Jamesaritchie
04-16-2006, 08:55 PM
You know, I at first thought there had to be a relationship, and the OED lists both, but suggest they are separate.

I'm less sure, and am trying not to be teased by the question into doing more research, though it is a very seductive question . . .



It is seductive, and I'd like to explore the question. It could, however, take a lot of work and lead nowhere. But it would be fun.

veronie
04-16-2006, 11:32 PM
Actually, there's nothing odd about "y'all." It's a second person plural personal pronoun. Like the "ye" of older English. In a way, it's sad that today's English is missing a second person plural pronoun, so "y'all" will have to do the trick.

Tish Davidson
04-17-2006, 04:43 AM
To me (born outside Philadelphia with parents from PA Dutch country) get ahold and grab ahold are used differently.

Grab ahold requires an object. "Grab ahold of that log and help me heave it into the truck"

Get ahold is reflexive "Get ahold of yourself, man. She ain't gonna die." meaning get your emotions under control.

Jamesaritchie
04-17-2006, 04:44 AM
To me (born outside Philadelphia with parents from PA Dutch country) get ahold and grab ahold are used differently.

Grab ahold requires an object. "Grab ahold of that log and help me heave it into the truck"

Get ahold is reflexive "Get ahold of yourself, man. She ain't gonna die." meaning get your emotions under control.



"Get ahold of someone" is probably the most common uage everywhere, and it requires an object.