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12 September 2010

Monday's Word - Bedizened

I've delved into Michael Quinion's 'World Wide Words'*  site again this week.
I don't suppose your romantic heroine will 'bedizen'! (I hope not, anyway:) )

'To bedizen is to dress up in a gaudy way...

...if we were true to the history of European
culture, we might argue that it is only women who can be bedizened.
It would be fruitless to do so, of course, because its users apply
the word as often to men as to women, as well as to houses, cars,
Christmas trees, theatrical sets and anything else that can be accused of being decked out with finery to vulgar excess.

The female connections exist because the word is closely linked to"distaff", which people now use most often for matters relating tofemales. That's because spinning thread with the yard-long woodenrod called a distaff was traditionally women's work. The "staff"part of the word presents no difficulties, but few of us now know
that the "dis" beginning derives from an ancient Low German sourcethat meant a bunch of flax. (The implication that the distaff wasfirst used for spinning linen thread, not wool, is confirmed by the
archaeological evidence.)

Nearly 500 years ago, the verb "dizen" appeared, presumably from the same source as "dis" (though nobody knows how), which meant todress a distaff for spinning. A century or so later it started torefer to decking a person or a thing with finery. Within decades,"be-" had been added to it to make the verb stronger. Ever since,"bedizened" has implied that the bedecking has gone to excess.'

I have to admit I would never  have thought that a word used to describe an overdressed person was derived from such an ancient skill as spinning. Isn't the English language wonderful!

Thanks to Michael Quinion -

*World Wide Words is copyright (c) Michael Quinion 2010. All rights reserved. The Words Web site is at http://www.worldwidewds.
Reproduced with permission


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