previous next


PREPOSITIONS. By, original and derived meanings

By (original meaning "near"). Hence our "to come by a thing," i.e. "to come near" or "attain."

“(How) cam'st thou by this ill tidings?

“I'll come by (i.e. acquire) Naples.

By is used in a manner approaching its original meaning in “Fed his flocks
By (on) the fat plains of fruitful Thessaly.” B. and F. Fair Sh. i. 1.

“At a fair vestal throned by the west.

So Wickliffe: "By (on) everi Saboth," Acts xiii. 27. Somewhat similar is our present colloquial "by this" of time; an expression which is found in

“Of the poor suppliant who by this I know
Is here attending.

; Lear, iv. 6. 45.

This is illustrated by the play on "by your favour," where favour means also "complexion," "face," in

Duke. Thine eye
Hath stay'd upon some favour that it loves,
Hath it not, boy?
Viola. A little, by your favour.

Compare also the puns in T. N. iii. 1. 2-10.

Hence "about," "concerning."

“How say you by the French lord?

“Tell me, sirrah, but tell me true, I charge you,
By him and by this woman here what know you?

“I would not have him know so much by me.

"I know nothing by myself," 1 Cor. iv. 4 (no harm about myself).

“Many may be meant by (to refer to) the fool multitude.

Compare B. J. Poetast. v. 1:
Lupus. Is not that eagle meant by Cæsar, ha? . . . . Cœsar. Who was it, Lupus, that inform'd you first This should be meant by us?

Hence from near came the meaning like, according to.

“It lies you on to speak
Not by your own instruction, nor by the matter
Which your own heart prompts you.

“And him by oath they duly honoured.

i.e. "according to their oath."

“Not friended by his wish, to your high person
His will is most malignant.

i.e. "in accordance with his wish," "to his heart's content."

“If my brother wrought by my pity it should not be so.

“I will believe you by the syllable
Of what you shall deliver.

So, where we say "to the sound of:"

Sound all the lofty instruments of war, And by that music let us all embrace.

By seems to mean "near," hence "with," in

“(My daughter) hath his solicitings,
As they fell out by time, by means and place,
All given to mine ear.

Perhaps we may thus explain:

“I'll trust by leisure him that mocks me once.

i.e. "in accordance with, to suit, my leisure."

The use of by in

“The people . . . by numbers swarm to us,

is the same as in

“By ones, by twos, by threes.

By, in the sense of "near," like our "about" (Acts xiii. 21, Wick. "by fourti yeeris," the rest "about"), Greek κατά, was used from the first in rough distributive measurements in E. E.: "He smote to the ground by three, by four," "by nine and ten," "by one and one." So

“I play the torturer by small and small
To lengthen out the worst that must be said.

i.e. "in lengthening out by little and little." Hence, perhaps, from "by one by one" sprang our shorter form, "one by one," "little by little;" though it is possible that "one by one" means "one next to or after one."

By is used as a noun in the expression "on the by" (as one passes by).--B. J. 746.

We still use by as an adverb after "close," "hard," &c., but we should scarcely say,

“I stole into a neighbour thicket by.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: