ruth, n.

Meghan, my dear wife, was reading Jayne Eyre and came across this description of Mrs. Reed, “… she had a somewhat large face, the under-jaw being much developed and very solid; her brow was low, her chin large and prominent, mouth and nose sufficiently regular; under her light eyebrows glimmered an eye devoid of ruth” (43).

I couldn’t remember reading ruth as a common noun, so I did some research.

“ruth, n.” in the Oxford English Dictionary:

Etymology: < rue v. + -th suffix, perhaps after early Scandinavian (compare Old Icelandic hryggð). Compare earlier rue n.

arch. in later use.

1. a. The quality of being compassionate; the feeling of sorrow for another; compassion, pity. Also with for.
    b. to have ruth; usually with of, on, upon, or for. Now rare.
    c. to take ruth; also with of, on, or upon. Now rare.
2. Contrition, repentance; remorse. Now rare.
3. a. Matter for sorrow or regret; occasion of sorrow or regret. Obsolete.
    b. Mischief; calamity; ruin. Obsolete.
4. Sorrow, grief, distress; lamentation. Obsolete.
5. As a count noun: an occasion or cause of sorrow or regret; a matter for sorrow or regret; a calamity; a lament. Obsolete.
Today this usage survives in ruthless—to be completely without ruth.
Interestingly, this is a completely independent etymology from the Hebrew, which is the origin of the proper nameRuth (רות); meaning (a) draught, refreshment, or perhaps (b) female companion: i.e., the Moabite ancestress of David (The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament III:1209).

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