Do you ever get startled by a word that you know perfectly well? So many words I know either primarily from having heard them or from having read them and when they show up in the less-familiar form, I get a bit discombobulated. Discombobulated, for example, is something you just don’t see in print. Similarly, as I realized while I was doing some editing this morning, you never see…
Right? I mean, geeks who are a bit goofy with a slight penchant for rpgs use this often enough, but unless you’re reading Piers Anthony or Robert Asprin, when are you going to see it in print? Not that often, that’s when.
The first question John asked is if the word has any relation to “wart.” No, no it doesn’t. Both come from Middle English, but a wart is just a wearte. A “thwart,” however, is also “athwart.” (Are you laughing yet? Because I am just cracking myself up over here.) But seriously, “athwart” is the archaic adjective/preposition form of “thwart,” probably taking its form in comparison with the more common word that means more or less the same thing, i.e., “across.”
“Thwart” actually goes back to Middle English thwert, meaning “across,” which in turn goes back to the Old Norse thvert, which is a specific form of the word thverr, which means, wait for it…”transverse.” And there you have it: our word which is modernly used most to describe the actions of a nemesis or a nautical seat comes from a concept that can basically be boiled down to getting in the way.