Continuing on with the exploration of everyday words and phrases that may baffle, irritate, or even amaze us, is a selection from the “D” chapter of Dictionary of Word Origins by Jordan Almond.
We save the last course of a meal as “dessert” which comes from the French word desservir: to clear the table. The practice was to remove the table cloth to serve the last course. Today we remove the dinner plates to make room for that sweet end to a good meal.
No surprise here–dirt is cheap because it’s free. That is, unless you decide to have it delivered from one of the schmancy garden places.
Dog Days of Summer
Those really hot searing days that pop up during summer? The ones where being outside is misery? The Romans blamed those toasty times on the stars–Siriusly. That would be Sirius, the Dog Star. It was thought that Sirius got a bit hotter due to its rising with the sun. Those hot dog days were called cuniculares dies.
I think of Jimmy Cagney when I hear “double-cross.” Actually I think of Bugs Bunny imitating Jimmy Cagney saying “you dirty double-crossing rat.” Then again. Monty Python gets it right as well:
What’s it mean? In prize fighting, if a fighter intentionally lost a fight he “crosses up” both the spectators and those who bet on him. If he wins after the cross up he affects his manager and those who bet on him to lose. The two cross ups make for the “double cross.” Why Jimmy Cagney says it is a bit perplexing, although one could argue he is a bit of a fighter.
Down a Peg
The British Navy had a custom in which the ship’s colors were raised to recognize visiting dignitaries–the higher the colors, the greater the honor. Taking the colors down a peg indicated a decrease in honor.
Dressed to the Nines
Old English is responsible for this one. Someone who was “dressed to the eyne” was dressed “to the eyes” which is basically being dressed “up to the ears” something we just don’t say, even though logically we basically are.
Having dressed up (to the ears) it makes sense that taking off clothes would be “dressing down.” Not so. A butcher preparing beef for market will slice the animal’s carcass. In the same manner, a person who receives a tongue lashing full of cutting remarks is getting a “dressing down.”
One of the most obsequious words going. This word stems from dudde, the Middle English word meaning “to dress.” Later down the road, an Easterner who went West in a fancy outfit discerned an attitude by the Westerners. Basically “dude” is a smash up of “dud” and “attitude.” Somehow that works for the Simpsons.
Tune in next month for more explanations, descriptions, and epiphanies.