Where Is ‘By the Wayside’?

If you've ever wondered what the English idiom fell by the wayside means, we have the answer. We'll start with King Arthur.

Samantha Enslen, Writing for
2-minute read

Have you ever missed a deadline or failed a test?

You may have planned to prepare, but then something happened, and those plans fell by the wayside.

What is the wayside, anyway? And does it hurt if you fall by it?

Let’s find out. We’ll start with the word way.

A way is a road or a path. As in highway, byway, or the phrase going my way? You’ve probably said that before.

The wayside, therefore, is the land on either side of the way. What we might call the roadside.

The term wayside can first be found in the Middle English poem Morte Arthure. This poem was written in the 1400s by an unknown author. It tells part of the legend of King Arthur. It’s sometimes called the Alliterative Morte Arthure, because it uses so much alliteration—many words that start with the same sound.

At one point in the story, Arthur’s knights are traveling through France when they find themselves ambushed. They’re attacked, the poet writes, by “fifty thousandez of folke of ferse men of armez” who appear on the “waye sydes” of a “bechen wode.” 

In other words, fifty thousand armed men sneak through a beech wood forest, appear on the side of the road, and attack.

These days, we often hear wayside used in the phrase to fall by the wayside.

That means that to forget about something or neglect it.

For example, you might say your grass died because your watering fell by the wayside. Or that your plans to save money fell by the wayside when you saw that sweet pair of Jordans.

That’s your tidbit for today. The wayside is the side of the road. And if something falls there, it’s been forgotten about or neglected. 


Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. Oxford University Press. http://bit.ly/1suRrj5 (subscription required, accessed May 17, 2016).

Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find her at dragonflyeditorial.com or @DragonflyEdit.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Samantha Enslen, Writing for Grammar Girl

Samantha Enslen is an award-winning writer who has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. She runs Dragonfly Editorial, an agency that provides copywriting, editing, and design for scientific, medical, technical, and corporate materials. Sam is the vice president of ACES, The Society for Editing, and is the managing editor of Tracking Changes, ACES' quarterly journal.

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