Well, who should be there but her master's son, and what should he do but fall in love with her the minute he set eyes on her. He wouldn't dance with anyone else.

But before the dance was done, Cap o' Rushes slipt off, and away she went home. And when the other maids came back, she was pretending to be asleep with her cap o' rushes on.

Well, next morning they said to her, 'You did miss a sight, Cap o' Rushes!'

'What was' that?' says she.

'Why, the beautifullest lady you ever see, dressed right gay and ga'. The young master, he never took his eyes off her.'

'Well, I should have liked to have seen her,' says Cap o' Rushes.

This content is from "Cap O' Rushes" in English fairy tales.

I have two questions, What" the meaning of "right gay and ga"? What's the difference if there isn't "have" in the sentence like "I should have liked to see her"?

  • 2
    You should probably ask about "ga'" over on ELU; ELL doesn't really deal with extremely archaic words like that. May 23, 2016 at 20:58

2 Answers 2


This story appears to have been first published by the folklorist E.S.Hartland (born 1848) in the ‘Suffolk’ section of vol I of County Folk-Lore, p.40, where it is said to have been “told by an old servant to the writer when a child”; and the English Dialect Dictionary, vol II s.v. gay gives ‘gah’ (which I should think is the most likely pronunciation of ga’) as a Suffolk variant of gay.

Gay used of clothing meant until quite recently finely or showily dressed. EDD’s citations for gah both have the specific sense 9. Bright- or light-colored; variegated, speckled, spotted. It is quite possible however that the sense here is intended less to contrast with that of gay than to echo it. English traditional genres are very fond of formulaic alliterating doublets like this (hale and hearty, house and home, prim and proper, rant and rave, time and tide), and occasionally the two terms are very near cognates: field and fold, hale and whole, part and parcel, wit and wisdom. I suspect that gay and ga’ is a Suffolk fixed phrase of this sort.

Right here has the sense very much.

I should have liked to see her is the ordinary irrealis past, with the past form of shall bearing a counterfactual sense (I didn't see her, but ...) and the perfect construction adding the past-tense reference.


The dialogue the characters are using here is clearly some older dialect of English (possibly even fictional) that is not grammatically accurate... for instance, "beautifullest" is not actually a word. The correct English phrase would, of course, be "most beautiful".

"Gay", when applied to how someone is dressed, would probably imply that the person is wearing fancy, bright clothing, or that something about their appearance conveys happiness. I have never heard of the word "ga", and I would guess that it is a construct of the story's fictional dialect. The fact that it looks almost identical to "gay" is probably supposed to imply that the definition of "ga" is very similar to "gay".

I should have liked to see her

is not technically incorrect here, though in most parts of the US we would probably say

I would have liked to see her

instead. The extra "have" in this sentence could be considered redundant, but not necessarily incorrect, and the use of "should" instead of "would" is probably not used much anymore, though at one point in the past it may have been the more common usage.


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