Last Wednesday, I was invited to speak at retailers event near Lancaster, PA. As my husband and I were driving through Pennsylvania, also known in our family as “the land of oh-so-helpful road signs,” we saw first the “Don’t Tailgate” sign. And then one that said “Beware of Aggressive Drivers.”

My husband, who had only caught of glimpse of that one, said, “Did that say ‘beware aggressive drivers’ or ‘beware of aggressive drivers’? Because it would be funnier if there were no of. Then we wouldn’t know if it was warning us to beware of them, or just warning them.”

Naturally, this led to the next question of, “So is beware just be + aware?”

“Probably,” I said. “Or be + wary. In fact, I bet aware and wary are variations of the same word.”

And so, it turns out, they are.

Beware is from around 1200, a contraction of “be wary” or “be on one’s guard.” It’s from the Old English wær, which means “prudent, wary, aware, alert.” Aware is also directly from the Old English, from gawær, which is obviously just a slight variation, meaning “wary, cautious.”

So there we go. Our musings were correct. And Pennsylvania will forever remain the Land of Oh-So-Helpful Road Signs. 

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