or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ever a Dull Moment

As Heather Havrilesky, Salon.com's TV critic, said today,

the doldrums of summer have hit me prematurely. I'm restless yet sluggish, crabby yet uninspired.

Yep, those sound like the doldrums, all right. (Not here, not yet, thank goodness; it's still nice and cool in the mornings. If she's talking about television doldrums, I wouldn't know.) But what exactly are doldrums, anyway? When I first started thinking about the word, I thought, "Hey, that sounds kind of Dutch! 'Doldrums' is a seagoing kind of word, we got a lot of our seagoing words from the Dutch...could be!"

It isn't, though. It would have been great if it had been (because then I would have been right, and that's always great), but it isn't.

The first half of "doldrums" comes from "dold", an old past tense of "dullen", "to make dull". (This shows simultaneously the influence of German, in that "-en" verb suffix, and the rather haphazard way English dealt with vowels before spelling began to be codified. You may take it from me that in Newfoundland, where I hail from, the "-u-" in "dull" is in some regions regularly pronounced as a sort of way-station between a short "u" and a short "o", and closer to the "o" at that; "dulled" sounds a fair bit like "dold"--to rhyme with "called", not "cold".)

As for the rest of "doldrums", Answers.com tells us that the whole thing is from the archaic "doldrum", "dullard", influenced by "tantrum", so there's the second half. And where does "tantrum" come from? That, they don't know. It evidently just appeared out of nowhere.


Blogger wooddragon said...

I'm reading the article today, and thank goodness for your blog... (and thanks to Google)

Friday, June 23, 2006 12:27:00 AM  

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