or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Today in the letters section to a Salon.com article, someone used the term "daring-do", and I thought, "Nope." And then I thought, "Well, where does 'derring-do'" come from, anyway?" Because after all, "derring-do" and "daring" are pretty much synonymous.

To my extreme surprise, it turns out that the "derring" part is, in fact, the remnant of a variant spelling of "daring", to wit "derrynge". "Derrynge do" meant "daring to do", and "derring" became solidified as the correct spelling in that phrase, which "daring" became the correct form of the verb "to dare". (I will point out yet again that before spelling became codified by dictionaries, people spelled more or less at will, and several, sometimes many, spellings of the same word were common: if you stumbled upon an unfamiliar spelling, you could just sound it out, and since the spellings were approximately phonetic, you could get the gist of the writing. As lexicographers became more influential, the idea that there was one correct spelling--sometimes based on etymology but often through strong-willed insistence--became entrenched, there was suddenly a right and a wrong way to spell nearly everything, and spelling became yet another perceived indicator of intelligence, for better or worse.)

So "daring-do" is a natural enough spelling if you've never seen the term in print, but, perversely, "derring-do" is, although arguably a misspelling, the correct way to spell the phrase. And that, I suppose, is English spelling in a nutshell.


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