Gainsay, meaning “to speak against,” a word encountered in Mary Roberts Rinehart’s 1914 mystery, The After House: when and why do we stop using words?

theafterhouse“I think that if she had chosen to say that I had wielded the murderer’s ax on the Ella, I should have gone to the gallows rather than gainsay her.”–from The After House.

According to, most dictionaries consider “gainsay”–meaning “to deny or contradict”–to be formal or literary, and some categorize it as archaic. Obviously in 1914 it was in common enough usage for Mary Roberts Rinehart to put it in the thinking mind of her protagonist.

What happened to “gainsay” between 1914 and 2014? Why would a perfectly clear and succinct word disappear from our speech and from our casual writing?

The After House, by the way, is not classical Mary Roberts Rinehart but is an excellent mystery.


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