Friday, October 2, 2015

Fine and Dandy

As readers of this blog know - and, for that matter, anyone with whom I have had a conversation of any length - I have a rather quirky vocabulary. One I am not shy of using to its full potential. There are several factors to account for this. The first is that I have a Californian father, and a Midwest mother. The idiom of my speech reflects this, as I am as likely to say "okie dokie" and "alrighty then" as I am to say "cool". The second is my penchant for picking up words from books - and the books I read often contain a rather antiquated vocabulary. The last is the Irish/Scots influence. My go-to music is Irish/Scots. I watch a fair amount of British film and TV. I have a Scottish friend. The result is that, in addition to an unplaceable (and vaguely Newfie) accent, I have acquired a deal of non-American slang and idiom. And I am like to use words from any of these influences within a single conversation, and frequently within a single sentence.

At this point, the people who are around me on a daily basis take my singular manner of speaking in their stride. No one even blinked, for example when I used "felicitous" this morning to describe the happy outcome of a rather vexing situation. I forget that I don't exactly talk like everyone else. So when someone sees fit to comment upon my choice of words, I am a little surprised by the notice.

In a recent email exchange at work, my correspondent remarked, "I delight in your adjectives, as of late." I paused, and looked back at the last email I had sent. There was this sentence, the only one employing an adjective: "That's dandy." I stared at it for a while, suddenly and acutely aware of the fact that "dandy" is one of those words that I take for granted, and that take others by surprise. The longer I looked at it, the odder that word seemed. Where did "dandy" come from anyway?

As it turns out, no one knows. As far as anyone can tell, "dandy" in the sense I had used it - and in the phrase "fine and dandy" is a slang word of Scottish origin. Beyond that, it is an philological orphan, albeit, tentatively related to a number of other "-dand-" words throughout various European languages. And to make it even more difficult, all of those "-dand-" have indeterminate origins.

Curiouser and curiouser! Furthermore, there is apparently a sub-level of etymology of which I had hitherto been in ignorance: extinct slang, which (apparently) dies out, leaving only unexplainable words (hello, dandy!) to show that it had ever existed. Why the idea of secretive etymology should delight me so much, is a mystery, but I am hugely intrigued by this.

And, if you have made it through all my mandering to this point, I take it for granted that you have had your curiosity piqued as well. In which case, by all means, read this dandy article. It is fascinating and fun.