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CONJUNCTIONS. But, meaning and derivation of

But (E. E. and modern northern English "bout") is in Old Saxon "bi-utan," where "bi" is our modern "by," and "utan" means "without." Thus but is a contraction for "by-out," and is formed exactly like "with-out." Hence but means excepted or excepting. This use of out in compounds may be illustrated by "outstep (except) the king be miserable."1
It was full of scorpyones and cocadrilles out-takene in the foresaid monethes.2
Alle that y have y grant the, out-take my wyfe.3

The two latter passages illustrate the difficulty of determining whether but is used as a passive participle with nominative absolute, or as an active participle with the objective case. In the same way we find "excepted" and "except" placed (a) after a noun or pronoun, apparently as passive participles, and (b) before, as prepositions. Thus--

a)

“Only you excepted.

“Richard except.

Then, on the other hand,--

b)

“Always excepted my dear Claudio.

“Except immortal Cæsar.

(For the confusion between "except" and "excepted" compare "deject" for "dejected," &c. See below, 342.)

The absence of inflections, however, in the above instances leaves as uncertain whether "except" is a preposition or participle. But "save" seems to be used for "saved" and "he" to be the nominative absolute in

“All the conspirators save only he.4

So

“Save thou.

“Nor never none
Shall mistress be of it save I alone.

“What stays had I but they.

iv. 4. 34; Cymb. ii. 3. 153; Macbeth, iii. 1. 54; R. and J. i. 2. 14. On the other hand, Shakespeare does not agree with modern usage in the inflections of the pronouns (see 206--216).

1 Halliwell's Dictionary.

2 Halliwell's Dictionary.

3 Halliwell's Dictionary.

4 Similarly "sauf" was used in French in agreement with a noun placed in the nominative absolute.

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