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A.Word.A.Day--derring-do

Pronunciation RealAudio

derring-do (DER-ing DOO) noun

Daring acts, often tinged with recklessness.

[From Middle English dorryng do (daring to do) misprinted as derrynge do and interpreted as a noun form.]

"While a listless economy has blunted the derring-do of many an entrepreneur, Madam Ong has just sunk in US$1 million (S$1.75 million) to develop a line of cosmetics made from plant extracts."
Gilt Complex; Straits Times (Singapore); Nov 8, 2003.

"Mixing clowning and physical feats that stretch from demanding acrobatics to trapeze and high-wire derring-do to animal acts and juggling, this show has something for everyone."
Lawrence Van Gelder; Theater in Review; The New York Times; Nov 18, 2003.

What do the words acme and acne have in common, besides being next to each other in a dictionary? The word acne began its life as acme. As a result of a misreading, it took on a new spelling. There are many more such words in the English language. Buttonhole once was buttonhold. Shamefaced used to be shamefast in the sense of restrained by shame. Cherry was originally cherise, but as that seemed to be plural, people spoke of a cherry when referring to a single fruit. The same happened with pease which was wrongly assumed to be plural and became pea. The list goes on and on.

Next time you see someone misspelling the word "definitely" as "definately" don't snicker. Chances are the new spelling will find a way into the dictionary just as "miniscule" did for the original word "minuscule" because people thought the word had its origin in prefix mini-. It's the usage that determines the flow of language. This week we'll see a few words that are in their current incarnation because someone misread, misprinted, misheard, or misunderstood the term.

X-Bonus

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. -Michelangelo Buonarroti, sculptor, painter, architect, and poet (1475-1564)

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