July 6, 2005

Don Doff

I know that by the time a fellow is 38 he probably should not be excited about stupid little language epiphanies like this. But I’m unusual, I know.

Chuck used the word “doff” in a recent post. It’s not a word you hear all that often, but not an unfamiliar word either. It means “to remove some article of clothing.” In his case, he was “doffing” his cap.

It made me think of another uncommon (archaic) but not unfamiliar word “don.” To wear an article of clothing. Before doffing his cap, Chuck had donned it at some point.

For the first time, I noticed that these two opposites both began with the letter “D.” I also noticed that if you remove the “D,” what remains are the words “on” and “off.”

That can’t be a coincidence. They look like contractions. It turns out that they are.

“Do” has an archaic meaning of “to put.” So “don” would mean “do on” or “put on.” “Doff” is the opposite.

It’s all obvious now, and perhaps you all have known this since you were 6 years old. But I’m always pleasantly surprised when I see these connections in the English language. I have no idea why I never saw “off” and “on” in those words. I guess it’s because I never put “don” and “doff” together before.

Posted by James at July 6, 2005 11:41 AM
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It's news to me, James. Brilliantly worked out. I doff my cap in your honor.

Here's one that I've always liked: In a number of old texts I've seen the word "today" written with a hyphen: "to-day". Why?

I've always thought that the word today looked very cute with a hyphen in it. "We're using hyphens to-day, hee hee!"

According to this page on hyphens:

...Old-fashioned usage, especially in Britain, favours excessive hyphenation, producing such forms as to-day, co-operate, ski-ing, semi-colon and even full-stop; such hyphens are pointless and ugly and should be avoided. Much better are today, cooperate, skiing, semicolon and full stop: don't use a hyphen unless it's doing some real work...

:-( I guess we are not using hyphens to-day. Boo-hoo.

Posted by: Chuck S. at July 6, 2005 2:51 PM

Thanks for the twackback, by the way, but you twacked back to the wong article... to-day. :-D

Posted by: Chuck S. at July 6, 2005 2:55 PM

Oops - fixed.

Posted by: James at July 6, 2005 3:12 PM

And about the hyphens, I think the hyphen in to-day is cute as well. Very late 1800s, early 1900s.


Posted by: James at July 6, 2005 3:15 PM

I never noticed that either! I think it's because you never really see them in close proximity. How very clever! Thanks for pointing that out. I don't have a cap to doff at the moment and I don't think you want me doffing anything else in your honor. So, perhaps I'll don a grin instead.

As a side note, Don Doff would be a great character name.

Posted by: briwei at July 6, 2005 5:07 PM

That's very cool! It sounds like super-hero speak to me (unnecessary hyphen?), "d-on, d-off," of course, I don't know what "d" would be. But I must say that "flame on" sounds very, very stupid. I don't know if that's in the original comic book, but I cannot believe they're putting it in a movie.

Posted by: Maggie at July 6, 2005 8:03 PM

It is in the original. That's the only reason it is in the movie. That is/was his catch phrase. Just like "It's Clobberin' Time!" for the Thing. Fortunately, Reed and Sue didn't have phrases. Wonder what theirs would have been?

Posted by: briwei at July 6, 2005 8:49 PM

Sue: "Go-Transparency!"

Reed: "Stretch-Activate!"

Posted by: James at July 6, 2005 9:16 PM

I love that kind of stuff too. Thanks for pointing that one out.

Posted by: Karen at July 6, 2005 10:43 PM

Sue: Go AWAY!

Reed: Go go Fantastic Arms! Wait...

Posted by: briwei at July 7, 2005 2:37 AM

Both: "Fantastico-Powers, Activate!"

Sue: "Form of air!"

Reed: "Shape of linguini!"

Posted by: James at July 7, 2005 6:36 AM

hee hee!

Posted by: briwei at July 7, 2005 12:01 PM

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