Friday, July 18, 2008

Word of the day

It's not often I encounter a word I've never read before in my word of the day, but today's is brand new to me. The first thing I thought when I read it: This sounds like a The Decemberists lyric. Uh, the?

Word of the Day for Friday, July 18, 2008
tatterdemalion \tat-uhr-dih-MAYL-yuhn; -MAY-lee-uhn\, noun:

1. A person dressed in tattered or ragged clothing; a ragamuffin.
2. Tattered; ragged.

Last time peasant blouses surfaced, in the 1960s and '70s, they were part of an epidemic of Indian bedspread dresses, homemade blue-jean skirts, Army surplus jackets, Greek bookbag purses and love beads, the whole eclectic tatterdemalion mix meant to express egalitarian sentiments and countercultural solidarity with underdogs everywhere.
-- Patricia McLaughlin, "The peasant look", Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, April 25, 1999

I was expecting a wild hair, clanking jewelry, a tatterdemalion velvet cape from whose folds wafted the scent of incense, a house full of candles, dream catchers, cats, and bad art.
-- David Rakoff, Fraud

To my ear, though, the prose has the tatterdemalion feel of something hooked together by commas, tacked together by periods.
-- Brad Leithauser, "Capturer of Hearts", New York Times, April 7, 1996

Tatterdemalion derives from tatter + -demalion, of unknown origin, though perhaps from Old French maillon, "long clothes, swadding clothes" or Italian maglia, "undershirt." Entry and Pronunciation for tatterdemalion

From Wikipedia:

Tatterdemalion is a fictional character and supervillain in the Marvel Comics universe, who wore gloves either coated with or secreting a chemical agent which dissolved any material composed of paper, such as dollar bills. His appearance (and, indeed, his name, which roughly means "ragged tramps") suggested that he was homeless, and he was apparently insane, which presumably explains why he would want to destroy currency.
A tattered or ragged person.
This is a lively, rattling, machine-gun word, one chosen by many writers as suitable accompaniment to invective or disparagement. Here’s Lady Wishfort, in William Congreve’s play The Way of the World: “Frippery? Superannuated frippery? I’ll frippery the villain; I’ll reduce him to frippery and rags, a tatterdemalion!”. Or James Joyce, in full flow in Ulysses: “Florry Talbot, a blond feeble goosefat whore in a tatterdemalion gown of mildewed strawberry, lolls spreadeagle in the sofa corner, her limp forearm pendent over the bolster, listening”.
But where it comes from is open to argument. The first part seems pretty certain to be our English tatter. Some writers trace the second bit to the French maillon, swaddling clothes. Others say it comes from the Italian maglia for undershirt or (British English) vest. Support for this comes from the very earliest use, by Ben Jonson in 1611, which he spelt as tatter-de-mallian, reportedly said as though it were Italian.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2008. All rights reserved.
And check out this link, an interesting and well-written blog entry about the word.

1 comment:

Poetic Painter said...

Cool...I learned a new word today. :)