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Lexical Leavings

by Tom Gally

I was asked today about the meaning of the word "fray" in personal titles, like "Fray Pedro." I checked a dozen English dictionaries, including the OED, and only one, Merriam-Webster's Unabridged, defined it:
BROTHER -- a title of a clergyman of various religious orders in Spanish countries
This absence from other dictionaries is surprising considering that the word is not uncommon in English. Here are some hit counts from Google, with Google's language settings restricted to English and Japanese:
"Fray Pedro" 657
"Fray Juan" 1660
"Fray Garcia" 212
Some of the hits are spurious, of course, but a glance at a few pages of results confirms that "fray" is well established in this meaning in English. It's a surprising omission from the other dictionaries.
(January 4, 2003)