Is it much ado about nothing?
Michael D. from San Francisco wants to know why he keeps seeing people write “without further adieu” instead of “without further ado.”
"Is it sheer ignorance or hypercorrection?” he asks.
The proper form is “without further ado”; an ado is a hubbub, a bustle, a flurry, or a fuss. Another common phrase, from the title of a Shakespeare play, is “much ado about nothing.”
“Adieu” is the French word for “goodbye.” English just borrowed it directly from French.
‘Ado’ Originally Meant ‘To Do’
“Ado” was originally a contraction of the words “at do,” which was another way of saying “to do” because some of the languages spoken by the Norse invaders in northern England used the word “at” the way we use the word “to.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it looks like “ado” is still used to mean “to do” in Scottish English and maybe in northern England. Here’s an example sentence from a Scottish Dictionary published in the 1970s.
I'll hae plenty adee atween this and Whitsunday.
That is a really fun sentence, so I’m going to take a minute aside with it.
First, “adee” seems to be a Scottish dialect form of “ado,” so that’s why the sentence is listed as an example of “ado,” but actually uses “adee.”
Second, what the heck is “Whitsunday”?
What Is Whitsunday?
Well, it turns out that Whitsunday is one of four Scottish quarter days. Whitsunday is in May, and then Lammas is in August, Martinmas is in November, and Candelmas is in February. These are somewhat similar to British and Irish quarter days, which are Lady Day, Midsummer Day, Michaelmas, and Christmas, although those fall on different days from the Scottish days.
All of these quarter days are days for quarterly activities which the OED suggests could be holding quarterly meetings, hiring people, paying rent, or starting a tenancy. I’m not sure why those last few would happen quarterly, but it’s still an interesting little tidbit.
And now, back to “ado.”
‘Without Further Adieu’ Could Be an Eggcorn
I can't be certain why people get it wrong, but the substitution of the French "adieu" for the "ado" is what linguists call an eggcorn—when people confuse two words that sound the same, especially when the substitution makes some kind of logical sense. The name comes from a discussion on the Language Log website about a woman who thought the word for "acorn" was “eggcorn.” And you can see how that makes a bit of sense because an acorn is a seed that gives rise to a tree kind of like an egg gives rise to a chicken, and an acorn is also kind of egg-shaped.
In some instances, it is also possible to see how people could mistakenly believe the meaning of “adieu”—“goodbye”—makes sense in the saying. For example, if people want to leave without a bunch of additional farewells, it may seem logical to say something such as “without further adieu, we're off to the movies.” Although it may seem logical, it's not correct. If you mean "goodbyes," you'd have to use the plural: “adieus."
The Correct Phase Is 'Without Further Ado'
Your Quick and Dirty Tip is to remember that we aren’t French. When you say “without further ado” you mean “without further fuss,” and when you say "much ado about nothing," you mean "a big fuss about nothing," and you use the English word, “ado.” Imagine a Viking in northern England saying it.
'Ado' Versus 'Adieu' Quiz
1. Before Pierre left, he kissed my cheek and said, “[Ado/Adieu].”
2. We’re going to see Shakespeare’s play ‘Much [Ado/Adieu] About Nothing.’
3. Without further [ado/adieu], we’re off to see the play.
4. Did you know that [“ado/adieu”] means “goodbye” in French?
5. Aardvark made much [ado/adieu] about Squiggly losing the fishing poles.
Answers are on the next page.