Wednesday, September 1, 2010


See where I'm going with this? Last post  was on doughty, right? And now I'm doing dowdy. Clever, huh?

Okay, maybe not so much. But one word did really lead to another. I do know what "dowdy" means. It's old-fashioned, unalluring, plain--hell, it's practically my dress code. But where does it come from? I certainly get no etymological clues from the word itself. Elwood P. Dowd, the Jimmy Stewart character in Harvey?


So what, then?

Here's the deal--dowdy comes from Middle English doude, which means "immoral, unattractive, or shabbily dressed woman".

Oh, really?

This one upsets me on multiple levels. It's not enough that a woman is not a streetwalker apparently. If she is unattractive or badly clothed, it's all the same to the vernacular.

And what about the word "drab"? Because it's really the same logic at work. On the one hand, it means "dull, commonplace or dreary", but on the other it means "prostitute".

In other words, women, be attractive, but not too attractive. You don't want to look too commonplace, but by all means don't look too uncommonplace.

"Even amid his drabbing, he himself retained some virginal airs."

Well, nice trick (ahem) if you can pull it off. That's Stanislaus Joyce speaking. I'd like to think it wasn't about his more famous brother.

But that's probably wishful thinking.


  1. What fun. I love learning about word origins.

    And surely you are neither drab nor dowdy.

  2. A bit of both at times, I'm afraid, but not a drab or a doude, I hope.

    Thanks for checking this out, Kathleen.

  3. Dress nice, but not too nice. Be pretty but not too pretty, and undoubtedly, don't be dowdy...sigh, the things we deal with to be women ;)

    I think it's time for bed...

  4. It's better to be doughty and forget the wardrobe, I'm thinking.