Turning Over An Old Lief

Every so often, I think of a word or phrase I grew up hearing but never hear anymore. The latest one that came to mind was “just as lief.”

Older people used to say “just as lief” all the time in the West End of Louisville, Kentucky, where I was born and raised, which is another phrase I haven’t heard in a while.

liefIt means, “just as soon as not,” or, “I don’t mind if I do.” I love the example they give at the Oxford Living Dictionary: “He would just as lief eat a pincushion.” Cracks me up.

The OLD says that the origin of lief is an Old English for pleasant or dear, so I guess it’s like, “It’s just as pleasant to me to do this as it is to do that.”

Like “I don’t mind if I do,” the phrase “I’d just as lief” often really meant, “I’d rather.” Like, if Charlie said we would go out for dinner and I said, “Would you rather stay and eat at home?” he might say, “I’d just as lief,” but he would really mean, “Not just yeah — HELL yeah.” He hates eating out. I’d just as lief go.

In using an archaic word like that, how much context do you need to give, in order for it to be comprehensible? I’m thinking, in this particular case, not much.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Write about a word or phrase from your childhood you kinda miss.




I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Turning Over An Old Lief

  1. Jane

    October 10, 2016 at 9:01am

    I love that phrase!
    A good example of a long verbal trail from the mists of Time. 😉

    When I lived for a couple years in Germantown, I noticed that the street named Reutlinger was pronounced differently by the younger and the older inhabitants of the area. Us newbies wanted to say, rut-linger. But the ones wo’d grown up in the area said, right-ling-er, which is so much closer to the original German, roit-ling-er

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      October 11, 2016 at 4:42pm

      Ah, THAT’S interesting! I met a guy this weekend whose last name is Schroeder. We have Schroeders in our family, who say the name shroa-der, but this guy’s family say it shray-der, which is closer to the original German. ‘Course, our family was only German up until WWII, when we suddenly became Dutch. We was po’, but we wasn’t stupid.

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  2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    October 10, 2016 at 3:36pm

    I don’t mind gay people having taken over the word – the other one was ugly, and used in an ugly way – but I sometimes come across gay used in the old way, and that was lovely, too, and there isn’t quite anything to replace it.

    Other than that, if I learned a word in a classic, and use it appropriately, I feel comfortable. If it feels archaic, I may provide a bit more context for the younger reader.

    Maybe that accounts for one reviewer saying there was a faint old-fashioned flavor to my writing. Or it could simply be that morals and ethics seem to be old-fashioned more now than ever.

    I’m sure the kids will find their way, too, but some of the experimentation worries me for their sake. I don’t think women come off nearly as well, so it isn’t equality. If that’s old-fashioned – worrying about the children and the society they will live in – then so am I.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      October 11, 2016 at 4:43pm

      “A faint old-fashioned flavor” is not a bad thing, to my mind. And of course I ADORE your writing!

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  3. Joey

    October 10, 2016 at 3:56pm

    My mother always told me we were going heels after our toes, but for years, I believed we’d go to Hills to get toys, because I was small and she had such an accent. I became one flustered kid, “What does that even mean?!?” It was sometime in high school when she wrote it out and only then did the phrase register. Hand to God, to this day when she asks me where I’m goin, I tell her heels after my toes. I’m not bitter. lol

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