A study ‘fixing to’ instead of preparing to and being ‘scot free

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For a long time people would ask me about the origin of the phrase “fixing to.” Of course, having grown up in south Alabama I had heard it all of my life:

My Mom was fixing to go to town. My sisters were fixing to go to town with Mom. My Dad and I were fixing to go to the pond to go fishing. We were always fixing to go somewhere.

People kept asking me how it started, and they were getting tired of hearing me say, “Duh, I don’t know.”

After I began this word column, people would ask me about the origin of the phrase “fixing to.”

And they got tired of me saying, “I don’t know.”

So one day they asked me about the origin of the phrase, and I said, “Well, it started back in the day when a farmer had to prepare to do the spring plowing. First, he had to prepare by hitching the mule to the plow. Then he had to prepare a dozen or so little things. What happened over the years was that we used the word fixing instead of preparing.”

And as they say, “fixing” caught on to the point of being fully established as the verb to use.

Where’s Henry?

The response was he’s in the barn fixing to go plowing,.

Or, where’s mom?

She’s fixing to go to town.

It didn’t matter that all she had to go to town was pick up her purse with car keys inside. The actual act of preparation was understood to be “fixing.”

And so it was that I established the art of “fixing to” by fibbing about the farmer preparing to do  the spring plowing. I use the word fibbing instead of saying I lied because fibbing sounds less criminal.

So now you know that I am an unethical etymologist.

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On the matter of the phrases “scot free” and “Scott free,” keep in mind that “scot” is lower case with one “t.” It  is a  word meaning payment, punishment or penalty.

In the book, A Hog on Ice and Other Curious Expressions, by Charles Earle Funk, it is written that “to go scot free” means to be exempt from payment, punishment or penalty.

Funk said that “scot” came straight from Old English. It meant then as now that a payment, or, especially one’s share in the cost of entertainment.

Later, it came to mean a tax. Hence, to go “scot free” is to be free of payment or tax.

In reference to the name Scott, which is often confused with scot, Scott was the name of a slave,

Dred Scott, who tried to win his freedom in the 1800s through the court system in Virginia. He lost, but the man who owned him gave him his freedom, making this Scott free.

This word scot and the name Scott often become confused.

 

Gillis Morgan is an associate professor emeritus of journalism at Auburn University and an award-winning columnist. He can be reached at morgarg7@aol.com

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