Sunday, April 29, 2012


A woman was asking me in the bookstore for some item the other day--I can't now remember what it was--but we found it and she said "Ah, you keep it in with the sundries." "Sundries" is a good word I  hadn't heard for awhile. I think within my living experience there used to be departments in stores called "sundries", but at least in my neck of the woods it has been "rebranded". In our store, the department is usually called "sidelines", even though ''sidelines" has a tendency in the book biz to become more and more the main show.

The phrase "all and sundry" is nice, too, though I have probably read it somewhere more recently than used it or heard it used.

It's a nice Sunday word, I think, though I'm guessing it has no connection to either Sunday or the sun, but think it might be somewhat connected to the word "asunder", though I don't yet know how.


The word may still be used very commonly in some places, but just in case your place isn't one of them, a thesaurus is full of alternate words. An assortment, a hodgepodge, a variety, and, in a store, another nice term that is fading away, "a notions department" might fill your needs as easily. "Odds and ends" would be yet another rough synonym.

"Sundry" comes from the Old English word syndrig, which meant "separate, apart, special". This connects it with many words that have the theorized ProtoIndoEuropean root, *sen(e), which has to do with separation. It's a bit ironic that it's come to mean a bunch of things that are not separated, but I think the "many separate things" idea is probably what's behind it.

I was a bit surprised to learn (thanks, as usual, to the Online Etymology Dictionary) that the term "all and sundry" predates sundries by a long shot--1389 vs. 1755. I would have thought it would be the other way.

But I am pleased to find that sundry IS related to "asunder", again through the Old English. Asunder is a contraction of on sundran, the sundran having to do with being apart or separate. And I found a nice little phrase used in Middle English "to know asunder", which meant to distinguish or tell apart.

I'm for bringing that one back. And though it's not from Middle English, here is a nice example.

HMS Endeavor


  1. Now, who will write a mystery set in the Middle Ages called To Know Asunder?
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  2. Peter, If I was British, and lived anywhere near Tyne and Wear, I would take this project up in a heartbeat! It would be great.

  3. The second book in the series, possibly about a series of mysterous disappearances, could be called Tyne and Where?

  4. And the third could be called Tyne Waits For No Man.

  5. I will need a few hours' rest before I can try to top that.

  6. Loved learning all this + the phrase "to know asunder." Also, this mystery series sounds like a project for you to undertake soon!

  7. Thanks, Kathleen. It would be fun, but I think it should probably be tackled by a clever medievalist. Or at least someone who has ever been to Sunderland.

    Although "Alice in Sunderland" could be a good name for the series as a whole.

  8. it! one of my favourite terms is to 'rent asunder', which i spose means pull things apart in such a manner as to render it indistinguishable from its original purpose or meaning..which kinda relates to sundries..i spose..
    oh how i love the etymological dictionary!
    bestill my philological heart!

  9. Love that word. My boss uses it all the time as in "various and sundry" items, or tasks.

  10. Dan,if you love the etymological dictionary, you might like to take a look at a little post I did about the Online Etymology Dictionary, which I have used frequently, but which it took me far to long to realize was the labor of love of one man.

  11. Sean, if your boss uses it all the time and you still love it, he or she must be a pretty good boss.

    I wonder if 'sundry' is still more in use back east than it is out here.

  12. I went to Sunderland once. It was shut.