Old meaning of the word "have"

Jan 2019
Hello and Happy New Year!

I am currently attempting to transcribe an old American Civil War letter and am struggling with reading the poor handwriting. There is a particular word that troubles me. It REALLY looks like "have", and, in fact, is very similar to the word "have" later in the letter. The only problem is that the word "have" makes no sense in the context. I have found online where the word "have" supposedly sometimes means to know, which would make sense. I was hoping that someone out there could either verify that "have" can also/historically mean to know or tell me if it says something else in the letter. Thanks!

The letter says" My Dear Wife I in haste Rite you a shorte note to Let you ??? that we are ordered to Richmon as the yankees are advancing"'


Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
It's old-fashioned, but you still find it used that way in the English language today.

"He has it that..."
"I have it that... he is a most kind and understanding gentleman."

Meaning to know or to understand.
Jan 2015
"Hear", maybe? Or even misspelled as "here", since spelling doesn't seem to be his strong point. Or he could have just written the wrong word!

I transcribed some Revolutionary War letters a number of years ago, and it was fascinating. Surprisingly good handwriting and spelling, but yeah, there were a couple words I just never got.

Good luck!

Aug 2011
The Castle Anthrax
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

have | Origin and meaning of have by Online Etymology Dictionary

have (v.)

Old English habban "to own, possess; be subject to, experience," from Proto-Germanic *habejanan (source also of Old Norse hafa, Old Saxon hebbjan, Old Frisian habba, German haben, Gothic haban "to have"), from PIE root *kap- "to grasp." Not related to Latin habere, despite similarity in form and sense; the Latin cognate is capere "seize.

Sense of "possess, have at one's disposal" (I have a book) is a shift from older languages, where the thing possessed was made the subject and the possessor took the dative case (as in Latin est mihi liber "I have a book," literally "there is to me a book"). Used as an auxiliary in Old English, too (especially to form present perfect tense); the word has taken on more functions over time; Modern English he had better would have been Old English him (dative) wære betere.

I always thought that have did come from Latin habere. When the conversation goes to Proto-Indo European it all gets foggy for me anyway.

As far as have for to know, I am familiar with that use, e.g. I have it on good authority... or I have it that Caesar supported the Blues. But then again, in that use have is still to posses, as in one posses the knowledge that... Which is still to know. So I think it's plausible that your word was "have."

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