This word is marginal at best.

“This word,” Samuel Johnson wrote in an explanatory note, “is, I fancy, peculiar to the learned Hooker.” And which learned Hooker would that be, which erudite textworker? We get some idea with the quote Johnson appends for further amplification:

He therefore, which made us to live, hath also taught us to pray, to the end, that speaking unto the Father in the Son’s own prescript form, without scholy or gloss of ours, we may be sure we will utter nothing which God will deny.

The learned Hooker’s passage is, evidently, from a defence of praying the Lord’s Prayer (also known as the Our Father and the Pater Noster).[1] In short, we need not display our schooling.

Which, on the other hand, the learned Hooker certainly has with what the learned Johnson deems his hapax legomenon, his nonce word, scholy. What better way to display your learning than to toss it in in a context where you disavow displays of learning?

Oh, but how else is the word-loving Word-lover to bring lovely words into the world? Well, my grandfather, an earnest scholarly holy Joe himself,[2] used to use all the biggest, best, longest words he knew in his own private prayers – not to impress God but just because he knew at least that God would understand them, and he wouldn’t seem to others like he was showing off.

As it happens, though, the learned Johnson was mistaken. The word scholy was in use a half a century before Hooker,[3] who was writing in the later 1500s, and it continued in use at least into the mid-1700s.

Oh, what does it mean? Johnson defines it as “An explanatory note.” In context, it refers particularly to exegetical notes or marginalia or, in some mathematical works, an illustrative note. The best synonym is scholium.

Which I’m sure is a word you all know. Well, it’s how it goes: some Latin words ending in–ium gained English versions ending in –y (antimony comes to mind). Occasionally, as here, we got a doublet.[4] And you probably have spotted the sch that suggests strongly that Latin got it in turn from Greek – that plus the evident schol– root that we see in so many scholastic and scholarly words. The Greek source of scholium (and scholy) is σχόλιον skholion, which, by the way, was also borrowed straight into English as scholion, meaning exactly the same damn thing as the other two, starting in use around the same time, but persisting in use up to the present – which scholium also has. So it’s really a triplet, but no one uses scholy now.

No one uses the word scholy, that is.[5] People do use the thing. Explanatory notes are very popular. Some put them in footnotes; some put them in endnotes; some lately hyperlink to them. My personal favourite is the least seen, and the least accommodated by modern software: the marginal note.

[1]For those who know little of Christian practices, I will explain that this is a brief prayer used verbatim from a prayer given by Jesus as a model of how we ought to pray simply and sincerely, without lengthy amplifications and discourses more intended as apostrophes to other persons present. (I say verbatim, but of course it’s in translation, and there are disagreements about how to translate it, some bits especially.)

[2]A missionary by position, then an aspiring seminary teacher, but cut short by an automotive accident.

[3]That’s Richard Hooker, 1554–1600, by the way.

[4]By which I mean two words that are originally versions of the same word, not the garment that Dick Hooker wore above his breeches and codpiece.

[5]Except me, here, now, I guess.

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