Tuesday 12 October 2010

To Ail

North Korea's ailing leader Kim Jong-il took over the reins of the country after the death of his father Kim Il-sung in 1994.
   -The BBC

Ail is a strange verb. It exists almost entirely in the strange dialect spoken by journalists. Moreover, ail is almost always a participle. No recent British newspaper has used ail in the infinitive. Moreover, when ail does become an active verb, its meaning changes. Rather that suffering, it starts to mean harming. The reason for this is no doubt the phrase about curing what ails thee. Indeed, every ails that I could find in recent news was preceded by the word what, as in "we want to get to the heart of what ails our schools" (The Independent).

So if you are ailed, you ail. Nobody in the news seems ever to have ailed actively, apart from an unfortunate Cumbrian chap who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and observed "I haven't ailed owt all my life, so it's just my turn to get something.'

I will ail. I have ailed. I did ail, but now I'm feeling a lot better, thank you.

In the same way, it's easy for a show, a film or an album to be hotly anticipated; but very hard to anticipate hotly.


  1. I am reminded of this post about why fiction gets rejected by publishers:


    Specifically, #15: "The opening had a character do something that characters only do in books, not real life."

  2. Ail not used as a participle does happen "oh, what can ail thee Knight at arms?" in La Belle Dame Sans Merci which as we know from Flanders and Swann translates as 'the beautiful lady who never says thankyou'