This short extract is from the essay Political Ideals by Bertrand Russell:

In dark days, men need a clear faith and a well-grounded hope; and as the outcome of these, the calm courage which takes no account of hardships by the way.

What does 'by the way' mean here?

  1. incidentally
  2. along the way
  • 4
    It means "along the way". It is an older way of saying "along the way", common in the 17th c., and seems deliberately chosen to evoke the English of the King James Bible.
    – TimR
    Aug 25, 2017 at 14:56
  • 2
    If it were intended to mean "incidentally", you would need to add a comma after "hardships" ("which takes no account of hardships, by the way"). This would be the same as putting "by the way" at the start of the sentence.
    – user3169
    Aug 25, 2017 at 18:09
  • @RobbieGoodwin, my understanding of incidentally is that it is (in this context) a specific occurrence and along the way is a period of time spent on a path.
    – Sam Hobbs
    Sep 18, 2018 at 23:58
  • Sorry, user34660; I tripped over my own fingers. "Incidentally" and "by… not along the way" mean the same. "Incidentally" is "beside the main point". Your "along the way" could be stretched to mean the same but "stretched", not "mean" would be operative. Whoever told you either that "incidentally is… a specific occurrence…" or that "along the way is a period of time spent on a path…" had, at best, some very strange ideas. If you believe whoever it was, can you justify that, or what? Nov 8, 2018 at 21:41

1 Answer 1


https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2010/03/and-by-the-way.html gives a detailed description the semantic changes the phrase has undergone through the ages. Both "BY" and "WAY" are Germanic in origin.

Its old meaning is "along the road" or " using a road". The 1611 KJV uses this phrase to mean exactly this meaning of "by the way'. It is in Shakespeare's hand that we find the phrase has gathered its present day meaning of ' just in passing ', ' incidentally ', or ' just one more thing '. In Shakespearean dramas this phrase is used in both the senses.(see the thread)

So the modern day meaning of the phrase used parenthetically to mention something incidental to main discussion is not used by Bertrand Russell. "By the way" is placed in its original sense of " along the way" where calm courage braves the hardships on its course.

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