(Saxon, of; Latin, ab, from, away). The house is
a mile off —i.e. is “away” or “from” us a mile. The word
preceding off defines its scope. To be “well off” is to be away
or on the way towards well-being; to be badly off is to be away
or on the way to the bad. In many cases “off” is part of a compound
verb, as to cut-off
(away), to peel-off, to march-off, to tear-off, to take-off, to
get-off, etc. The off-side of horses when in pairs is that to the right hand of the coachman, the horses on his left-hand
side are called the “near” horses. This, which seems rather anomalous,
arises from the fact that all teamsters walk beside their teams on the
left side, so that the horses on the left side are near him, and those
on the right side are farther off.
He is well off; he is badly off.
He is in good circumstances; he is straitened in circumstances, étre bien [or mal] dans ses affaires. In these phrases “off”
means fares, “he fares well [or ill]; his affairs go-off well
ill].” (Anglo-Saxon, of-faran.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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