On the Make with "Make"
Bill Long 9/30/06
We have a variety of words beginning with "make" in English, not all of which are used anymore, but many of which have an interesting history. A made-a-do can be a troublemaker or an uproar/disturbance, but seems only to have been used in the Shetlands and Orkneys. Let's get to some that are more useful. I wil talk about makebate, makeless, make-game (make-sport), makepeace, makeshift and makework. All of these are derived from one of the 98 definitions of the verb "make" or one of the several definitions of one of the nouns "make."
A makebate is a "person (thing) who creates contention or discord; a fomenter of strife." The dictionary says it is "Now arch." which means that they don't think anyone uses it anymore, but let's explore. Satan, in a 1655 work, was called the "great make-bate between God and the soul," while an opponent of religion itself could write a few years earlier, "It was not likely that they would joyne in conspiracie, whom Religion (that most mortall make-bate) had disjoyned." But as recently as 1955 an author could write: "The man was a hater of the great Governor and his life-work, the Erie; a makebate, a dawplucker, a malcontent politicaster." This quotation is riveting. Though there are attestations for politicaster (an "inadequate or contemptible politician," on the analogy, I suppose of a "poetaster" being a lesser poet) going back to John Milton, I found no OED listing for dawplucker, though a figurative use of "daw" as simpleton or fool goes back quite a ways.
But not to bait and switch, let's switch to bate. What is it? A bate, which may be a shortened form of "debate," is a strife of contention. Shakespeare, in Venus and Adonis could say: "This sour informer, this bate-breeding spy." I don't know why we have lost the word. It is monosyllabic, easy to pronounce, clear. Thus a "makebate" is one who provokes strife. It sounds like it should have been a character in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Actually, as I was running Bunyan through my mind a moment ago, I recalled a person from his tale who was named Mr. Pickthank. Sure enough, the world is attested going back to the 15th or 16th century, and means a "flatterer."
I think we ought not only to bring makebate back, but also invent makewar to describe a "warmonger" or a "hawk." The word makebate also is used in botanical circles, to describe the jasmine or Jacob's ladder. I actually could get readily far afield here, but I think I won't.
The reason I think we ought to have a word like "makebate" or "makewar" in our vocabulary is that we have "make-peace," even though "peacemaker" overtook "make-peace" in the 17th century and left it in the dust. Shakespeare used both of the terms. "To be a make-peace shall be ome my age," he says in Richard II. But how about the following quotation. Ever hear anything like it: "The civill uses whereunto the Birch tree serveth are many, as for the punishment of Children..for it hath an admirable influence upon them, to quiet them when they are out of Order, and therefore some call it Make-peace." The quotation reminds me of Ronald Reagan's naming of some very destructive missle in the 1980s as the "Peacekeeper." I think that he mentioned the term, was hounded by the press and the Demos, and then had to get rid of it. We also know of "Makepeace" as a surname in English history (William Makepeace Thackeray), but I think I haven't ever run into one myself.
These two terms are synonymous, meaning a "person who or thing which provides sport for others; a laughing-stock." But make-sport was a 17th century term, which gradually evolved into "make-game." Thus, by the 18th century an author could say: "I thought myself the mere make-game of a giddy girl." And, then, in the 19th century we have: "I was treated as nothing, a flouting-stock and a make-game." Today we would probably talk about an object of ridicule or a laughing-stock, but these phrases were built on the sturdy foundations of make-game and make-sport.
I didn't know that the word makeless existed. Well, to be truthful, it flourished about 400 years ago, and means "matchless," or "without an equal." Unlike the other words discussed so far, it is derived from make as a noun, where it means a "match." The oldest definition of the noun "make" is a spouse or "match" or "equal." Chaucer could say, describing Cressida: "In beaute first so stood she, makeles."
I didn't realize also that the phrase "make-or-break" only has been around about 50 years. The Times of London apparently coined it in 1961: "There are any number of so-called stars who are thrust full into the limelight with their first screen appearances in a make-or-break attempt to impose an image on the public.."
Make-shift has undergone a change in its meaning. Originally a make-shift was a person who was a schemer or "shifty" person. A person who is given to making "shifts" is one who can accommodate to new situations. Then, about 1825 a new connotation came up: "that with which one makes shift: a temporary substitute, esp. of an inferior kind, an expedient." This is how we know the term today. One of my most admired writers/thinkers, Jeremy Bentham, said in 1827: "Jurisprudential law is the miserable makeshift of inexperienced ages." Though I don't know what he meant by this statement, I think it fits into his critique of the common law...
More could be said about various "make" words. It struck me as I was studying this that often a "make-" word is formed off of definition 69b (make or break) or definition 20 (makeweight) of the OED definitions of make. Sounds like an interesting task would be to comb through the various signficances of the verb (and noun) "make" and "make up" a whole lot more..